Last-minute deployments, financial constraints and injuries suffered on duty can make it difficult for military couples to marry, much less organize and enjoy their weddings.
And then there is the extraordinary expense of marrying in many parts of the country; an unexpected deployment can keep a couple from saving money for their big day.
Candice Thumser, 31, and her fiancé, James Campbell III, 34, an Army recruiter in Houston, were struggling to pay for their wedding. Ms. Thumser, who was raised in New York, was unemployed, so the couple were living on Mr. Campbell’s salary only.
When she went online and Googled “military gown giveaways,” she found Bridal Reflections, a salon on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan that hosts giveaway events for military brides. So she flew to New York.
“I was able to get a brand-new Ines Di Santo gown that barely needed alteration,” Ms. Thumser said. “I had top-notch service even though I walked away with a lovely couture gown for free.”
Leo Benoit, a Vietnam War veteran who is the chain’s vice president for retail operations, said, “As I listened to brides in our stores complaining about deployments, coordinating their kids while keeping their lives in order, and dealing with the finances necessary to have a wedding, I decided to do something about it.”
During a two-hour period on Wednesday (appointments are necessary), military brides can go to an Alfred Angelo store and select from a collection of 2014 and 2015 gowns ranging from $1,000 to $1,200.
“All a bride has to do is show us a military I.D. for herself or her fiancé, and she can walk out with a free wedding gown,” said Mr. Benoit from the company’s headquarters in Delray Beach, Fla.
Thirty unrelated retailers nationwide (Bridal Reflections is one of them) are affiliated with Brides Across America, a nonprofit organization that is hosting weeklong Veterans Day gown giveaways as long as the bride or groom serves in the military.
Heidi Janson started Brides Across America seven years ago by giving away 60 wedding gowns in her salon in Andover, Mass.; the organization thus far has given 15,000 gowns to military brides.
She said she had worried about the economic realities for military couples, especially those who were injured on active duty. The problem was brought home in 1991 when her sister found herself planning a last-minute wedding to a Marine who was deployed. Ms. Janson said, “I wanted to bring awareness to this issue and encourage military brides to enter a salon and enjoy the same experience as any other bride.”
Carla Perez and Zachary Bevins, who met in 2011 while serving in Afghanistan, had to bump up their wedding from May 2014 to December 2013 because of Mr. Bevins’s last-minute deployment as an Army network engineer. In October 2013, Ms. Perez attended a Brides Across America gown giveaway at the participating Poffie Girls salon in Gastonia, N.C.
Ms. Perez, now 23 and a former Army network administrator, said: “We had no budget for me to buy a dress at all. My mom and grandma couldn’t help us. It was so stressful.”
She said she was overwhelmed by the welcoming staff and the hundreds of beautiful gowns, some with heart-shaped necks, pearls, beautiful beading and lace. “I cried with happiness when I found the right dress,” she said. “I asked myself, ‘What did we do to deserve this?’ ”
Ms. Rogers, who is also a wedding planner, went a step further for this couple. She contacted local vendors hoping they would organize the wedding.
“We wanted to give them a complimentary wedding and let them keep whatever money they had saved,” she said.
In a little over a month, Ms. Rogers, her staff at Poffie Girls, Brides Across America and various food, flower, entertainment, accessories and jewelry vendors donated their services.
New this year is Blanc Bride Salute, an event organized by the owners of La Vie En Blanc, a two-year-old bridal consignment showroom in Miami. To honor Veterans Day, one lucky military bride will get a gown and accessories valued at up to $3,000. Brides must be active military personnel or be marrying the equivalent, and can enter between Nov. 11 to 25.
“Military couples make huge sacrifices to help our country stay safe,” said Viviana Planas, who owns the shop with Jenise Castro. “We want to help make their dream day special.” The winner will be announced in December.
With such demanding jobs, it’s possible that neither the bride nor the groom has time to plan a wedding even if they have the means. Karen Bussen, a New York wedding planner, is sympathetic, so this year she is offering any veteran of a United States service branch the chance to win a free wedding planning lunch and consultation.
Ms. Bussen asked that they tweet hertheir love story using the hashtag #VeteransLove. She will pick one winner on Veterans Day, announcing the name on Twitter at 6 p.m.
“Showing our vets love and appreciation is a wonderful way to support them,” she said.