By Ms. Gloria Montgomery (Army Medicine)December 4, 2018
Outside the Warrior Transition Unit's hallway, a steam of Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center Soldiers were huddling the wall waiting patiently to discover what waited for them behind the closed door.
Inside, the volunteers for the "Dress for Success" suit giveaway were readying the racks and straightening the accessories.
Then it was time.
With the legendary vocals of crooner Frank Sinatra cuing up in the background, the volunteer outfitters welcomed the WTU Soldiers into the magical playground of fashion distinction. Greeting the cookie-cutter-clad Army soldiers were racks and racks of men and women's suits, several hundred ties and shirts and bundles and bundles of belts. The goal? Finding that distinguishing, unique look that would dramatically transform the job-hunting Soldier to the "you're hired" civilian.
"It's important to help veterans get back into the workforce, so we want to help them feel and look their best," said Ben Davis, owner and founder of the Gent's Place, a Dallas-based men's grooming and fashion service journeyed to Fort Hood November 15 with a U-Haul full of more than 300 donated suits, dresses and accessories to add swank and style to the transitioning Soldier's job search. "How you show up in the world is your personal brand, so we are here to enhance that brand when the Soldiers need it the most."
For Chief Warrant Officer 2 Scott Hale, the ready to wear choices were daunting.
"I've never owned a suit in my life," said the Covington, La., native, who was thankful there were volunteers on hand to assist him in discovering his new look. "I've been in the Army for 17 years, so I never had any reason to wear a suit."
Although Hale knows his Windsor knots, Spc. Matthew Schrader admits to relying on You-Tube and Google tutorials to knot his ties.
Schrader, who is assigned to WTU's Community Care Unit (CCU) that allows Soldiers to heal at home with their families, drove from Tyler, Texas, to Fort Hood with his wife, Tammy, specifically for the free suit.
"The four-hour drive was worth it," said Tammy, adding how excited she is that she is seeing her husband of five years in his first civilian suit. "I've just seen him in his Class As and military dress uniform. Now he has something nice to wear."
This is the second year the Gent's Place has sponsored the Dress for Success program in honor of November's Warrior Care Month, which honors the service and sacrifices of wounded, ill or injured post 9/11 service members, their families and professionals who support them.
According to Anthony Thomas, WTU's transition coordinator, having professional clothes to wear is critical when going on interviews.
"Having them dress for success is very important for their transition, whether they are going to a job interview or getting ready to go out into the civilian sector," he said. "This is another chapter in their life, so this suit really does serve as the next stepping stone to success."
As Soldiers thumbed through the racks and held up shirts for sizing, a puzzled Schrader turned to volunteer Austin Dudek for help in coordinating his jacket and suit pants.
"Do you like this color," he asks Schrader, as the two chuckle about the oversized pants Dudek is holding.
"Maybe something a little lighter," Schrader hints to his fashion fitter.
After searching and finding the perfect pair of dress slacks, Dudek helps Schrader match suit with shirt and tie.
"Yes, it's really nice," Schrader said, as his wife, Tammy, smiles her approval at her husband's new look.
The smiles on both of their faces, touches Dudek, who is the Gent's Place Dallas-Fort Worth regional coordinator.
"We're in the business of helping men and women feel their confident best, so it's really awesome we are able to help," he said. "What better way of empowerment by helping them discover that new look?"
For Sgt. 1st Class Laytona Russell, it wasn't so much about the free fashion attire, but the generosity of the group.
"It's really nice when we have these groups come in and help us prepare for our transitioning to the civilian world," said Russell, a Jacksonville, Fla., native.
Hale, who recently was assigned to the WTU, agreed, saying he was thankful for not only the numerous volunteer groups that support the transitioning of wounded, ill and injured, Soldiers, but also for the WTU and its association with groups like Gent's Place.
"The Army has come leaps and bounds since I joined in early 2000," he said. "These kind of programs didn't exist back then so it's awesome that the unit and so many groups are helping guide Soldiers who are getting out."
Helping Soldiers, said volunteer Melissa Hollingsworth, feels like a million bucks tugging at her heart.
"Getting back to the workforce can be extremely stressful and figuring out what to wear adds to that stress," she said, adding that her way of giving back to the community is helping reduce that stress. "It really is about paying it forward. By changing one life, you are changing three."