BRENTWOOD (KCBS) – Two Bay Area women spent Wednesday trying on wedding gowns as they plan for their respective weddings in the shadow of military deployment.

And they got their dresses free thanks to a national program whose aim is to give gives military brides one less expense to worry about planning for that momentous day.

Stephanie Lee has been planning a February ceremony with her husband, an Army captain serving in Afghanistan.

“We had a civil ceremony and I was okay with that,” she said, in between trying on dresses at a bridal shop in Brentwood. “But he wanted to give me that dream wedding.”

Plunking down anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 for the dress simply wasn’t an option, even with his captain’s pay.

Enter Brides Across America, whose nationwide giveaways last year captured the attention of the White House.

The organization connects active duty service members and their fiancées or spouses who have recently served in the Middle East, Korea or Japan with shops such as His and Hers Formalwear willing to provide gowns at now charge.

For eligible couples, the wedding ceremony can happen up to a year and a half after a sometimes hastily planned civil ceremony whose timing was determined by deployment and leave.

Linda Pham’s husband returned from Afghanistan earlier this year to a new baby and the possibility the Marine Corps would redeploy the staff sergeant mechanic against the following year.

“So we only had about five months to plan everything out,” Pham said, becoming emotional as she described what it was like to focus on herself for just a moment, rather than a baby or a husband’s career.

“Sometimes we struggle,” she said.

Brides Across America held more than fifty dress giveaways in 23 states this summer, usually one or two-day events. One shop in South Carolina said the event was so successful it added three additional weekends.

The next round of “Operation Wedding Gown” is planned for November in time for Veterans Day.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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