06/16/2013 at 12:00 PM EDT
U.S. Air Force Captain Kim French sat in a dusty, sweltering pick-up truck in Afghanistan in her sweat-soaked uniform last year and fantasized about her wedding dress.
She and her fiancé, Marine pilot captain reservist Bo Biddle, 31, were on a tight budget so she figured she would have to find a gown second-hand.
"It was a very hard year of deployment," she says. "And, [there was] the depression and stress that follows."
Fast forward eight months and a radiant, beaming French is wearing a stunning, brand-new A-line halter gown at her dream beach wedding thanks to modern-day fairy godmother Heidi Janson, a bridal salon owner in Georgetown, Mass., and her Brides Across America
In just five years the nonprofit has given away more than 10,000 gowns, bringing wedding bliss to active-duty servicemen and women across the country.
"To be able to help someone fulfill a dream is a great thing," says Janson, 48. "It's like a Cinderella moment, where just for a little while, you can help them smile and forget their struggle."
The brides say they are eternally grateful.
"I felt more beautiful than I have ever felt," says French, 30, of her May 18 wedding in Virginia Beach, Va. "Brides Across America made my dress and my wedding dreams a reality that I will cherish for a lifetime."
If you'd like to help a military bride, go to bridesacrossamerica.com and follow the PeopleFirst buttons.