Our Special Guest: Yvonne Coombs, co-founder and CEO of Operation Deploy Your Dress (ODYD). I’m an Army spouse of 20 years currently stationed at Fort Carson, CO.
DoD Updates: PCS Entitlements payments– there are two payments. One is for your PPM or Partial PPM. The other will be for your DLA, Travel Per Diem, Mileage, etc. If you don’t know what a payment is for, your service member should receive an email explaining what it is for.
What happens if movers damage my home? Sometimes movers accidentally damage a doorframe, put a hole in a wall, etc. Note it on your paperwork at delivery, and contact your local transportation office about the issue. Within 5 days, file a claim with your TSP (Transportation Service Provider) to get reimbursement for repairs.
What was the inspiration for Operation Deploy Your Dress?
It was all created by accident, from 5 military spouses in Fort Bliss Texas who wanted to coordinate a dress swap to gather and give away a few hundred dresses on base one weekend. We got some national media attention early on, and created several thousand dresses! We now provide formal gowns for military ID holders for Balls, bridesmaids, formal events, etc. We realized that the need is there, not only in the military community, but the desire to help was strong in the civilian community too. So we set up shop and were doing well, but PCS season came 6 months later and I went to Virginia. So I packed up some dresses as my Pro Gear and set up shop in Fort Eustis Virginia. It was really successful there, and we have been going strong since then! ODYD is available for spouses and members of all military branches. Because it was founded by Army spouses, we are on Army bases or the Army side of Joint Bases, but we serve all branches.
ODYD has been recreated at several different locations. What is it like to PCS with a non-profit and physical products?
I’m always very conscious during the move pre-inspection to take them downstairs and show them the collection of dresses in the basement, which is FULL of dresses. When I walk down with them and show them exactly how many wardrobe boxes I need, they realize, “Wow, you weren’t joking!” I also need boxes to transport mirrors. I’m very organized with what I have so they can walk through and plan for specific boxes, which helps make your move more successful.
Did you ship all those dresses as Pro Gear?
Each spouse gets up to 500 pounds of Pro Gear, but I moved with about 500 dresses, so obviously that spilled over into my family weight limit, but it was okay because we didn’t go over weight.
What is spouse Pro Gear?
The service member gets Pro Gear, everything they need to do their job, and that does not count towards their overall household goods weight limit. As a spouse, you can claim job-related uniforms, objects, books, tools, etc as Pro Gear that won’t count against your overall weight limit. The wording specifically includes items used as a volunteer supporting your community which can be included as “Community Support Items.” This could be camping gear for a Scout leader, sports equipment for a coach, etc. That gives you extra weight off your household goods that won’t be counted against you.
What kind of issues have you experienced while PCSing from logistical to financial as a non-profit?
We had to figure out early on, with a Board spread out over the country, how to keep us from having to change all our paperwork every time. Luckily, one of our Board members is retired and in Arlington for good. So we registered that as the non-profit’s home address and can base all our business paperwork there. But each time we open in a new state, we need to do some additional paperwork to make sure we are meeting the guidelines of the new state. We are about to open our 9th shop, so it is difficult learning new guidelines and staying within those parameters every time.
Where is ODYD currently located?
Currently (in the order they were established) we are at Fort Bliss, Texas, Fort Eustis, Virginia, JBLM, Washington state, Fort Irwin, California, Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Stewart, Georgia, Fort Carson, Colorado, Fort Hood, Texas, and opening on the 21st of October will be Fort Drum, New York! And once a year we do a pop-up shop in Washington D.C. We have a few other shops in the works that we are trying to get situated. We want to reach as many military families as possible. We want to reach the other service organizations too, so if you are at another base or installation and want to help out, let us know!
Your family spent some time geographically separated in a “geo-baching” situation. What can you tell us about that experience?
What I would do differently is “never say never!” We thought we would never choose separation. I call Murphy’s Law my “military drunken pixie,” so just when you are comfortable they throw something at you to keep you on your toes. When we were PCSing to Colorado, my husband had to take command early, and even though we planned to move over Christmas, we changed plans because my son was diagnosed with cancer and we needed to stay near Walter Reed for treatment. So my husband moved to Colorado without us, then deployed and was gone for 9 months. That left me with the 2 boys in DC to attack chemo, attack cancer, and then attack PCSing after that. I never want to geo-bach again, but it’s something we managed and got through because we had to.
Military spouses always have to have a back-up plan! What lessons did you learn from your horrible PCS move when you finally moved to Colorado?
I know Megan and picked her brain a lot, so I tried to implement a lot of tricks and hacks to help things go smoothly, but there was only one of me so I couldn’t be in every room. My packing team only had one experienced packer, and the other two were doing their first day on the job! Some of it was just unavoidable, but that’s the situation I was dealt. I did use stickers on the rooms, and asked them not to cross-contaminate rooms and to label boxes more clearly. I could only do so much. Lesson #1 is to find help and have someone come over and give you extra eyes and hands so you aren’t doing it all alone. Don’t be too proud! I had friends who offered to help, but I shrugged them off trying to be resilient and strong. I’ve learned that as a friend you need to say, “This is what I’m going to do to help you” instead of asking it as “what do you need?”
Does ODYD need volunteers at different locations?
Yes! Each location has their own Facebook page, so if you reach out through there, the leader of each store will let you know their needs. Megan: it’s a lot of fun and a great joy to volunteer. I’ve done it for the D.C. popup, so definitely consider it!
Can spouses from a different base go to an ODYD location? What are the requirements?
You just need to have a military or dependent ID card. Yes, it’s open to all ranks, active duty, retired, Reserves, National Guard, etc. It can be a spouse going to a Ball, a daughter going to a Prom or Homecoming dance, etc. Yes, you can drive together with some friends to a different base. We had one group come together and do the Mannequin Challenge in one of our shops! Most of the shops will do private events if there is an upcoming unit event or a group of friends. There is a Private Event application. You can do coffees there, a unit event before a Ball, etc.
How can someone donate?
We accept formal gowns and semi-formal dresses, shoes, shawls, handbags, jewelry, accessories, etc. You can go to our website Operation Deploy Your Dress. There is a Donations tab and a map with pink pins. Please choose the mailing address, since many shops can’t accept mail at their physical location. Recipients can receive one FREE item per calendar year. You can always wear it for the event and then donate it back to ODYD, or keep it with you for future events.