LA CROSSE, Wis. -- It's probably the first thing on a bride-to-be's "to-do list" in planning their wedding -- find that perfect dress.
For the next two days, Charlotte's Bridal in La Crosse is helping military brides complete that mission free of charge.
Planning the wedding of your dreams takes time and money, something that may be hard to come by if the bride or groom or both are serving in the military, but finding that perfect wedding dress is one thing these brides to-be won't have to sacrifice for their special day.
“I personally want to be able to feel like I'm floating on a cloud,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Cheri Gorney. “Like it's a dream come true, that's what I want.”
Gorney has served on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Tuesday, she may be facing her toughest mission yet.
“I'm not a girly girl at all,” said Gorney. “I'm a soldier. I'm just used to putting boots and a uniform on and going to work.”
She’s trying to find her perfect wedding dress.
“I'm really picky and I didn't know exactly what I wanted, so just to have the assistance and the help and the support here was awesome,” said Gorney.
Her wedding to her fiancé won't happen until next winter, but the planning has been in the works for a while.
“It's next to impossible,” said Gorney. “He's currently serving just as well as I am, which makes things a little difficult from time to time, trying to plan and do things.”
And with a tight budget, her dream dress was one thing she didn't want to sacrifice. She's one of the couple dozen military brides at Charlotte's Bridal in La Crosse getting some much-needed help.
“They haven't got the stability of their old job and often they come back and they don't have their jobs, so to me, I think it would be a great, great deal for them to be given a free dress,” said Kathy Walker, co-owner of the bridal shop.
It's part of Operation Wedding Gown, an event put on by the Brides Across America organization. It’s an event where bridal salons nationwide give away designer dresses free of charge to military brides as a thank-you for the sacrifices they've made.
“It feels so good to watch these girls and to have them cry, and to thank you and to say, 'We appreciate it,'” said Walker. “They don't appreciate anywhere near as much as I appreciate our freedom and what our soldiers do for us."
It only took two dresses for Gorney to find the perfect one. It will be a secret until her big day, of course, and when she walks down the aisle, she'll know it will carry a very special meaning.
“I'd probably find a dress, but it'd probably be something completely different and it would be something that I would settle for, but I put the dress on and I was like, ‘This is the one I want,’ and it's actually going to be mine,” said Gorney. “So I'm excited.”
This is the second year Charlotte's Bridal in La Crosse has participated in the Brides Across America event. So far they've given away more than 100 dresses ranging between $500-$2,500.
Brides Across America's Operation Wedding Dress is a national event that has donated more than 7,000 wedding dresses to military brides in the past six years.
For those who missed Tuesday’s event, there is still one more day for military brides to find their perfect dress. Charlotte's Bridal will open at 10 a.m. Wednesday and it is first come, first served.
In order to qualify, brides or their fiancés must be on active duty in the military and have been deployed in the last five years. They need to bring identification and deployment papers to the event.