Event lets vet­er­ans try on their new uni­forms

Pro­gram in its sec­ond year pro­vides do­nated clothes for switch to civil­ian work

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By John-John Wil­liams IV

Dressed in gym shorts, a T-shirt and sneak­ers, Navy Petty Of­fi­cer Sec­ond Class Asante Buzenes was one of the first peo­ple Satur­day morn­ing into the dim, cav­ernous ware­house on Maple Lawn Boule­vard in Ful­ton. His mis­sion: Find the per­fect in­ter­view suit.

“Do you know your mea­sure­ments?” vol­un­teer Sally John­son asked warmly as she pulled out a yel­low tape mea­sure and started record­ing the cir­cum­fer­ence of his neck, width of his shoul­ders and length of his arms.

Buzenes was ex­pected to be joined by hun­dreds of women and men at the sec­ond an­nual March­ing Our Vet­er­ans Back to Work fair, which pro­vided mil­i­tary per­son­nel and vet­er­ans with free pro­fes­sional work at­tire and ac­cess to jobs and ser­vices in Mary­land.

“It’s nice to have these op­por­tu­ni­ties to pre­pare for a tran­si­tion,” said Buzenes, 24. “I’ll be get­ting out soon, so I’ll need clothes for that part of my life.”

Nearby, Navy Capt. Tara McArthur, 50, combed the racks of women’s cloth­ing.

“There are not that many women here, so we get our pick,” she said with a laugh as she ex­am­ined a sleeve­less black-and-gray color-blocked dress that she added to a grow­ing stack of clothes draped over her arm.

“To­day is im­por­tant be­cause we have a lot of vet­er­ans who spend a lot of time serv­ing this coun­try. They need to get a start build­ing their civil­ian wardrobe. We wear uni­forms,” McArthur said. “I’m very pleased. I’ve found some dresses, suits and blouses as well. There is a great se­lec­tion.”

Or­ga­niz­ers for the event ex­pected a greater turnout than its in­au­gu­ral event last year, which at­tracted 700 peo­ple.

“Our vet­er­ans serve us. I’m hon­ored to serve them,” said Pete Smith, an Anne Arun­del County coun­cil­man from Sev­ern who has served in the Ma­rine Corps for 20 years and is a cap­tain in the Ma­rine Corps Re­serves. Smith, a Demo­crat, co-founded the event two years ago with Calvin Ball, the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for Howard County ex­ec­u­tive.

“Suits are ex­pen­sive,” Smith ex­plained as he stood in the now-bustling space, do­nated by St. John's Prop­erty. “It’s the great­est thing I can do as a ci­ti­zen to help them in that man­ner.”

One of the most mem­o­rable anec­dotes that Smith re­mem­bered from the first event was see­ing a par­a­lyzed wheelchair-us­ing Army vet­eran who at­tended in hopes of find­ing a suit for a job in­ter­view.

“He thanked God for us as he was cry­ing,” Smith re­called.

Smith wants to even­tu­ally find a per­ma­nent lo­ca­tion to col­lect clothes and dis­trib­ute them.

Ball wants to con­tinue the mo­men­tum for what he con­sid­ers an im­por­tant cause.

“So many vet­er­ans go un­no­ticed and fall into the cracks af­ter help­ing to en­sure our free­dom and lives are pro­tected,” Ball said. “We knew it was in­cum­bent for us to stand up for them.”

Ma­rine Lance Cpl. Car­los Car­ri­zoza, 23, was also head­ing deep into the ware­house to find a suit af­ter a quick siz­ing. Car­ri­zoza said he planned to be­come a lawyer af­ter his mil­i­tary ca­reer was com­plete.

“It’s im­por­tant be­cause a lot of the time lower ranks don’t make a lot of money,” said the Tuc­son, Ariz., na­tive, who is sta­tioned at Fort Meade, adding that his chain of com­mand told him about the event.

Back to­ward the en­trance, John­son, a Gam­brills res­i­dent who works in the men’s cloth­ing di­vi­sion at Nord­strom in An­napo­lis, said the re­sponse of the at­ten­dees made it worth vol­un­teer­ing her Satur­day morn­ing.

“They’re very grate­ful and thank­ful,” she said. “And they seem ea­ger to get in there.”

At that mo­ment, Buzenes walked by with his finds: a navy suit and white dress shirt in one hand. He quickly looked over a cou­ple of ta­bles of­fer­ing jobs and ser­vices — there were 22 in all — be­fore head­ing to a ta­ble lined with dozens of ties. His out­fit was now com­plete.

“First ap­pear­ances mat­ter to a lot to peo­ple,” he said. “First ap­pear­ances make it or break it.”

Shoes for men and women are lined up for vet­er­ans at­tend­ing Satur­day’s event in Ful­ton. It’s the sec­ond year for the March­ing Our Vet­er­ans Back to Work fair.

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