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Mideast edition, Thursday, May 10, 2007

WASHINGTON — Wounded troops soon could be trading in their camo and Kevlar for designer duds.

New York clothing designer Ted Fisher and the Armed Forces Foundation launched a new program this week to provide high-end men’s suits, sport coats and other formal attire to certain servicemembers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We really want to be responding to what these guys need,” Fisher said. “Suits are just part of it, but it’s something that I know and can help them with.”

The new Suits 4 Troops program also will provide grants for renovations to help wounded troops navigate their homes, scholarship money for the children of servicemembers killed in action, and other financial aid programs for the returning fighters.

But the free suits are an unusual extra among existing military charities, one that Fisher hopes will fill a need.

Career counselors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center have said a major challenge for many wounded troops moving into the civilian work force is understanding how life outside the military works: things like putting together a resume, going on a job interview and figuring out what to wear without standard military uniforms.

First Lt. David Folkerts, who was wounded in an IED attack in Iraq, has been recovering at the center since April 2005 and currently has an internship with the State Department.

He said for his interview there, he had to borrow a suit from the hospital, and quickly had to buy himself another once they gave him the post.

“I knew I needed to make a good impression, so I knew I had to have some sort of suit,” the 26-year-old soldier said. “But I had never bought one before.”

Fisher hopes that the free clothes will help make the wounded troops feel less self-conscious while attending weddings, Sunday services or any formal event. He also hopes the initiative will help connect his wealthy clients with the military community.

“It’s so far away for some of these Wall Street guys, but this is a way to get them involved and helping out,” he said.

“If they see these guys need a suit, if they see they need help with other things, they can start to do something about it.”

His goal is to raise $1 million this year, through direct contributions and a new “4 The Troops” clothing line he plans to market toward businessmen and Capitol Hill lawmakers.

Meanwhile, officials from Armed Forces Foundation will be compiling a list of eligible troops for the program.

Criteria has not yet been finalized, but most of the recipients will be severely wounded servicemembers who also demonstrate financial need.

For more info:

More information will be available online early next week at:

www.4ourtroops.com

www.armedforcesfoundation.org

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