The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Katie Marks-McAuley’s husband proposed on a Saturday. The couple married on a beach the following Wednesday– just a few days before her groom deployed to Afghanistan.

The short engagement didn’t leave much time for wedding planning.

“It was on the beach, so I just wore a sun dress,” Marks-McAuley said of her hastily thrown together nuptials in March 2011.

The couple will have a reception in August. One thing Marks-McAuley won’t have to worry about just happens to be among the biggest components of any bride’s big day. She picked out her dress, a sleek, simple halter gown Wednesday at TLC Bridal Boutique, on North Market Street in downtown Frederick. Quite possibly the best part about the dress was the cost.

Marks-McAuley didn’t spend a dime. She benefited from TLC Bridal Boutique’s participation in Brides Across America, a national program that makes free gowns available to military brides who are facing a deployment of their own or their fiance’s. As of Monday, TLC Bridal owner Terry L. Warfield had about 90 gowns– many of which were samples that are being discontinued by manufacturers– set aside to give away.

She estimates they cost her as much as $95,000. Warfield said she hopes to have about 100 gowns for a giveaway event planned at the shop July 10.

In order to participate, brides must provide military identification and a deployment number.

“Most brides know it like it’s their social security number,” Warfield said of the number.

The national program began in 2007 and, so far, about 5,000 dresses have been given away, according to the website.

So far, about 25 brides have signed on to visit TLC to search for their dream dress on July 10, Warfield said. The boutique expects to help about 75 brides and has asked for participants to register, though Warfield said she expects some women to join the line that day.

Marks-McAuley, who is from New Windsor in Carroll County, participated a couple weeks early. She called the shop to line up an appointment when Warfield told her about the event and invited her in. Marks-McAuley, 23, is currently studying for a degree in sociology at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga., and leaves today to study abroad for the month in Europe.

Her husband, Daniel, will return in the next couple of weeks from his deployment in Afghanistan, she said. He is stationed at Hunter Army Airfield at Fort Stewart, also in Savannah.

“As soon as I put it on, my mom and my friends that were there were like, `It’s so you,”‘ Marks-McAuley said. “I think the whole thing was it was just totally unexpected. What are the odds?”

On a recent Monday, most of the dresses — sequined gowns in just about every style and size — hung on a rack in a warm upstairs attic space waiting for their owners.

For Warfield, participation in this year’s giveaway has special meaning. Her son-in-law is currently deployed as a surgeon in Afghanistan, and her daughter is five months pregnant.

“I can’t imagine other wives, although they have the support of the base, I can’t imagine how they maintain,” Warfield said.

Only about six brides will be allowed to enter the shop at a time, Warfield said, so as to not recreate the chaos that the “Running of the Brides” that made Filene’s Basement famous before the Boston-based chain shut down. Priority is given to registered participants.

Warfield said there will be a disc jockey, and the event will be catered. For participants who don’t find a dress, Warfield will have a list of other stores participating in the event, including one in Upper Marlboro, according to the national website.

Dresses left over after the event will be donated to the national organization, Warfield said.

Warfield has owned her shop for about nine years. Her own wedding dress, which she got from a department store, “disintegrated 10 years ago,” she said.

“My marriage is still going strong,” Warfield said.

As a bridal boutique owner, Warfield said she feels “blessed to be able to see joy on an everyday basis.” As for being able to help Marks-McAuley, Warfield said, “I think we both cried.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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