Dressed in gym shorts, a T-shirt and sneakers, 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, an E-5 in the Navy. “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.
“It’s a unique population that we serve that serves us,” he said. “I want to do this every year.”
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. “It’s important to have job opportunities.”
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.”