Operation Dress Code helps military women transition to civilian life

When RanDee McLain retired from the Navy in 2009, she saw many programs that helped male servicemen transition to civilian life, but no help was available for her and her fellow female veterans. Today, it is helping to fill this gap by Operation dress code.

“It’s not really a helping hand, it’s a helping hand. We’ve all been there,” McLain said. “When I transitioned, I didn’t know where to turn either.”

This Saturday, Operation Dress Code will feature a pop-up store at the University of San Diego. The event will provide a variety of services to help active duty military women and veterans transition into civilian life. This is the seventh consecutive year of the program.

“This is an opportunity for veteran and active duty women to receive clothing, shoes, accessories and many other things they may need as they transition into the civilian workforce,” said McLain.

The highlight of the boutique day is a shopping spree with a personal stylist. The experience also includes professional business portraits with hair and makeup services, and the opportunity to attend several inspiring and informative workshops.

McLain said that through their community partners, the store is stocked to help about 500 female service members.

The store is set up and run by volunteers, many of whom are military veterans who have benefited from Operation Dress Code. Cassandra Johnson is one such volunteer. She served in the Navy for 14 years and said the transition to civilian life was difficult for some people.

“When you’re deployed, you don’t have time (to transition to civilian life). You don’t have that support. If you’re on the ship or overseas, (you) don’t have to have that connection,” Johnson said.

This is Johnson’s third year of volunteering. She said helping other women is a way to pay it forward.

“I’m happy with them. I cry with them. It just gives them a sense of release. You can see people smiling,” Johnson said. “Some people don’t talk, but they understand everything. They know and feel that people are there to support them.”

Donations don’t magically appear on store shelves. Volunteers like Linda Colker handled over 5,000 articles.

“We just sort them by size, then hang them, put them on shelves, put a bag on them, tag them, and off we go for Operation Dress Code,” Colker said.

Colker is also one of many personal stylists who will help service women at the dress code boutique and, like Johnson, volunteer to pay it forward.

McLain said Operation Dress Code helps break down the barrier to entry for service members transitioning to civilian life.

“We come out (of the military) with incredible, transferable skills,” McLain said. “(We) just empower them to know what those differences are and help them transition into that civilian workforce.”

All services are free and appointments are always available for women in active duty or veteran service. See Operation Dress Code website for more information.

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