Editor’s Note: This story was written by Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Ali Flockerzi (5th from left), who was a participant in the “Salute the Runway” show at New York City’s Fashion Week in early September.
Written by PA3 Ali Flockerzi
The music is loud and the lights are incredibly bright; blinding, even. The tension in the air is thick, exciting, and terrifying. The director behind the stage is pushing each girl out, on cue, coaxing them to put one foot in front of the other and show the crowd what they’ve got. One by one, they take the catwalk, a thrilling nervousness shooting through their bodies as news teams photograph and capture their every movement. The crowd is going wild, cheering and applauding with such fervor, one might think these girls are famous. And they are, if only for tonight.
Fourteen retired, active and reserve servicewomen kicked off New York Fashion Week after walking the runway at New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Sept. 3, 2014. Little Black Dress Wines and Fatigues to Fabulous (F2F), a campaign supporting women as they transition back to being a private citizen, sponsored the fashion show “Salute the Runway.”
The women received beauty treatments from Aveda and Bobbi Brown Cosmetics to prepare and empower them before the show. Each lady wore signature little black dresses, donated by designers like Calvin Klein, Carmen Mac Valvo and Donna Karan.
Coming from different walks of life, each servicewoman received this incredible opportunity to meet one another, share their stories, and be made to feel beautiful and appreciated. Having met just a couple days prior to the event, these fourteen strangers quickly built friendships and bonded by familiarity of serving their country in the U.S. military. It all began in a small hotel room.
Walking into room 516 of The Empire Hotel, one of Manhattan’s famous boutique hotels, it was hard to know exactly what to expect. Inside, a group of women sat happily chatting, crowded onto a queen-sized bed and taking up most of the floor space. A sturdy, aged Golden Retriever laid contently in the corner of the room sleeping, his vest proudly displaying the title of a service dog. Smiling, content faces greeted newcomers, despite the fact that the room was sweltering; hot and humid because of the faulty air conditioning system.
Leslie Nicole Smith, a retired U.S. Army captain and the owner of the snoozing pooch in the corner, freely offered hugs, her small frame supported by a prosthetic leg. Smith is an amputee, and legally blind following a deployment to Bosnia in 2001. As spokesperson for the F2F campaign, Smith has been an inspiration to servicewomen throughout the country.
“There is so much meaning and inspiration behind each woman who walks out representing their service, their sacrifice, their branch,” said Smith. “It is so empowering, you walk away with such confidence and inner strength that you can do anything.”
The campaign is working with the fashion industry to help women make the transition to a non-military wardrobe, raise awareness of the challenges women veterans face upon return, and harness resources to support them. This initiative focuses on giving female soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen recognition for their service.
The event was about so much more than just hair, makeup, pretty dresses and paparazzi. These women were able to connect with one another, since many had already gone through the transition of military to civilian life after serving their country. Some lost their eyesight or a limb, while some simply lost the sense of belonging to something greater than themselves. A military career is known to be all-consuming, but this event allowed women to view themselves as unique individuals; beautiful inside and out.