By Sandi Gohn
For many, Monte Durham of TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta” is synonymous with all things weddings, fashion and southern charm. That’s why even his biggest fans might be surprised to learn that Durham, the show’s Fashion Director, has a generations-old connection with the U.S. military.
“My father was in the Army, in Beckley, West Virginia,” he said. “And my grandfather was in the Army.” Additionally, Durham’s partner, Jakob Evans, served in the Army and his good friend, Dan Via, retired from serving 22 years in the Air Force.
This connection to military service, coupled with Durham’s personal commitment to giving back to the community, is what prompted him to become involved with the USO in late 2019.
“I think we should all be more aware of our service men and women and the sacrifice that they are making,” Durham said.
Last November, Durham, who is local to the Washington, D.C., area, attended the organization’s Backstage at the USO event and participated in a care package-stuffing activity. Durham, along with other volunteers, stuffed roughly 1,000 care packages for service members overseas.
“The joy, the excitement and the energy of people supporting and participating and just putting together those care packages. That was unbelievable to me,” Durham said.
He also got to meet inaugural Bob Hope Legacy Award winner Ann-Margret as part of his involvement with the event, who left quite an impression on him – just like she did all those years ago while entertaining service members deployed overseas.
Supporting Military Spouses Through USO Coffee Connection Live
Since the event, Durham has continued to work with the USO and the military community, and most recently participated as a guest for the February 2020 USO Coffee Connection Live for military spouses.
As part of its military spouse programming offerings, the USO holds a monthly USO Coffee Connection Live: a streamed video chat for military spouses around the world to discuss key topics and challenges that they often face. Each month features a different topic and special guest and is designed to help build community and connection amount military spouses.
During the event, which was streamed live at Zoya’s Altier – a boutique bridal shop in Falls Church, Virginia – in front of a small, live audience of military spouses and brides-to-be, Durham fielded questions about fashion, weddings and more from over 60 military spouses who watched the event online from locations around the world. Some spouses asked the famed stylist about how to spruce up their everyday looks, while others asked for advice about outfits to celebrate upcoming relationship milestones like 10th wedding anniversaries.
“I loved it. I loved the questions and I loved the fact that they were receptive and wanted to ask more,” Durham said.
“The interaction with the brides and military spouses was wonderful.”
At the end of the event, everyone who logged in to the livestream even got to take a “selfie” with Durham and Sr. Military Spouse Programs Manager Nicole Vogel, who hosts each USO Coffee Connection Live. Durham also took the time to stay after the livestream was over to visit and provide a complimentary dress consultation with one of the military brides in the live audience.
“It’s a duty that we all should bear, giving back to our communities,” Durham said. “And whether it’s helping a bride, or helping a military bride, find the perfect dress … there’s so many ways to do it through the USO.”
More from the USO
Jan 25, 2021
From Professional Development to Home Improvement 101, MilSpouses Can Rely on the USO to Learn, Connect and Grow
Although the USO has always opened its doors to the spouses of active duty, Guard or Reserve service members, over the past decade, the organization particularly focused on offering in-person and virtual programs tailored to the unique needs of military spouses.
May 7, 2020
12 Things We’ve Learned from the MilSpouse Community, in Honor of Military Spouse Appreciation Day
To pay it forward on this Military Spouse Appreciation Day on May 8, here are the top 12 life lessons learned from USO Coffee Connection Live conversations with influential members of the military spouse community.