by Brian Kaiser

Suited for Service

Jim Rieser loves America, appreciates our soldiers, and makes a pretty mean suit.

This is year number four for the clothier’s Suits for Soldiers campaign, a program that gifts eight soldiers with custom-made suits to help them assimilate to the workforce.

The requirements are simple: the veteran must have served within the last five years and must be an Ohio resident. This impressive program is unpretentious and helps improve the life of soldiers and their families. What have you done today to make America better?

Employed at Hunter & Lords (a nationwide custom clothing service for men) since 1999, Rieser is head of Midwestern sales, and his niche is small market/high clientele sales that is by referral only. While I can’t give you the scoop on exactly who his clients are, I can assure you that his roster is a “Who’s Who” of Columbus power brokers and high-profile celebrities.

Walking into the Short North office in shorts, sandals and t-shirt (I am an educator on summer break), I felt underdressed. Rieser felt the same and gave me some good-natured grief. He of all people realizes the power a custom-made suit has to boost confidence and morale, helping veterans return to civilian life.

How did Rieser come up with this idea? Like many of us, he does his best thinking over a cocktail.

“I was having a beverage while remembering the terrorist attacks of September 11, and realized that I had to do something to help our soldiers. Clothes is what I do best. The idea just came from that place,” he said.

Our political leaders should have whatever cocktail Rieser was imbibing that evening.

Actually, make that a double.

“I have tremendous respect for service people. They keep the bad guys where they belong.” Reiser said. And he must deeply feel that respect, as the value of eight custom suits, custom shirts, ties and shoes comes directly out of Rieser’s pocket, valued at roughly $15,000. No big deal—just the price of a brand new Ford Fiesta.

This year’s campaign started on July 4 and ends on Labor Day. The soldiers receive their suits at the Veterans Day ceremony at the Lane Avenue Panera with friends and family in attendance. “Family members seeing the suits on the backs of their loved ones is my favorite part,” says Rieser. “It is not uncommon for a tear or two to be shed. It is a really special and meaningful ceremony.”

Of course, no good deed goes unpunished and the toughest part of the campaign is choosing the winners. Last year, there were more than 120 nominations, so Rieser enlisted the assistance of his wife and son in narrowing down the list.

“Picking winners is the hardest part because all of the nominees are worthy,” he said.

Sergeant Major Kevin Colwell was nominated by wife Kelli and was a recipient of last year’s campaign. A Green Beret since 1991 (that is a long time) Colwell said the pride involved with the suit had made a major impact on him.

“Seeing what the suit looks like on, feeling what it feels like to wear it, and most importantly how confident you feel overall when dressed in custom-made clothing, is incredible. If you want to perform your best, you need to feel and look your best, and I can’t tell you how good and confident I feel when I am wearing that suit. It’s almost like I put on my Superman cape!”

On active duty for another 10 months, Colwell has pridefully worn his suit on many occasions, especially those where he is a keynote speaker at events that raise money and awareness for wounded veterans.

“I have every confidence that the suit will someday play an integral part in opening the door to the next chapter in my life, whatever it may be,” he says. A price tag on a suit can be high, but the gift of confidence is priceless.

Unfortunately, we all know that veterans face many obstacles when returning to civilian life, with hopes of finding gainful employment.

“The biggest hurdle is that the language and terminology used in the military is not the same language and terminology as used in  the civilian business world,” Colwell said. “As a result, veterans can severely harm their own job search, and salary offerings, by unknowingly underselling their knowledge, experience and accomplishment simply due to language and terminology differences.”

If the sharpest suit around can help assist in the interview process and inspire the recipient to feel like part of the civilian employment team, the suit isn’t just a combination of cotton, polyester and leather, the suit is nourishment for the soul.

“The civilian world does not replicate the military’s culture, not in the workplace, and especially not outside the workplace, so veterans lose the feeling of being a part of a close-knit team and often feel alone and lost.”

In this age of partisanship, keyboard tough guys and raging social media feuds, this is a cause we can all get behind. Whether you stand or kneel, however you vote, and whatever social issue you are passionate about, you are afforded these freedoms due to the brave men and women who fight for our right to be as menacing or as kind as we choose. We can thank Colwell for that right, and we can thank Rieser for helping make veterans’ lives less difficult. •

Do you know someone who would benefit from this campaign? If so, nominate them at hunterandlords.com/suits-for-soldiers by September 3rd.

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