Nov. 12, 2020 —
Paulette Fryar stares into a black computer screen. In her ear, the producer begins a countdown, “5-4-3-2…” Quickly, she puts a smile on her face although she can’t see her own likeness, or any-thing at all for that matter. “Failure is not an option,” she tells herself.
The producer says, “1,” and she’s on live with a Fox News reporter—only hours after the an-nouncement was made.
Fryar was named the 2020-21 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year, and it was the first time in award history—a 12-year reign—that a Coast Guard spouse received the title.
In fact, because of constraints caused by COVID-19, Fryar will serve in the role, spanning from May through January, until 2022 so that she can engage, connect and push social agendas the way the role was intended.
A number of high-profile events and visible moments were cancelled due to the pandemic. Events such as being the featured speaker at charitable events, a guest at galas, and being a guest at the White House to have tea.
The Fox News media interview, and others that followed including CNN, are now just one of her newly assumed duties in the role. These national interviews and the event opportunities, es-pecially admit COVID-19, allows Fryar to share the message of how resilient military spouses are.
“Within the context of this pandemic I’ve been asked a lot about how military spouses are coping with challenges of isolation, employment, relocating, stress, and being away from where they grew up…My message is that we have always had to deal with these issues,” she said.
“Stress levels are definitely elevated but in a sense it's a wake-up call to the civilian world of how resilient we are. We have been preparing for this our whole lives. To the military spouses that have sacrificed so much, I have a message of encouragement and want them to know they've got this.”
Fryar reflected on that pivotal moment she learned of her win. “From the moment the announce-ment happened my phone blew up. My reaction was a mixture of excitement and being terrified,” she laughed. “I view this whole thing as being good for the Coast Guard and paving the way for the next Coast Guard spouse.”
She is married to Cmdr. Troy Fryar and her peers within the military community nominated her, undergoing several layers of vetting throughout the process. Winners were announced in May. Although the Armed Forces Insurance recognizes an overall military spouse of the year, they also recognize outstanding spouses at bases and branch levels who are also named as winners and mil-itary spouses of the year as well.
Award or not, it seems Fryar is always going to help others—she has always felt called to do so. It was this fierce devotion to volunteerism that helped her rise to the top of the selection pool to receive the overall title of Military Spouse of the Year.
“It is a privilege to recognize Ms. Paulette Fryar as the 2020 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Stanley E. “Sid” Clarke III “Paulette was chosen after an extensive voting and board process. The competition was tough as all of our branch winners are exceptional spouses who represent their member, family, and service with dis-tinction. We congratulate Paulette on her selection and thank her for her service to our country as well.”
While recently living in Washington, D.C., Fryar searched for volunteer opportunities as an emp-ty nester to four adult boys resulting from her blended family. Fryar began mentoring with Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPs) in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, an international organization with a military division to support young mothers. There she served as a “mentor mom” remembering what it felt like to be a young mom to four boys, away from family and unfamiliar to the re-sources in her new area.
When Fryar’s children were close to leaving home, she realized she could offer her experience and guidance to young parents. “I was struggling in 2017 because my youngest ones were just graduating high school,” said Fryar. “The MOPs organization is there to connect young moms with resources for things they are going through, eye-to-eye, shoulder-to-shoulder and it’s been my privilege to help and give support,” she said.
“I was assigned specifically to a small group of ladies that were ‘my girls.’ We dealt with the unique challenges we face as military spouses—missed holidays and birthdays, worries of being intimate with our spouses after long deployments, often parenting alone, struggling with deci-sions regarding employment—you name it. They don’t have their moms or aunties around so I was honored to provide that type of encouragement.”
In August, the Fryars' moved from the Washington, D.C. area to St. Louis area, within southern Illinois. Fryar’s husband is assigned to USTRANSCOM on Scott Air Force Base.
While she was still in D.C. Fryar was also a member of the Army Spouses Club of the Greater Washington Area and was a board member of the Belvoir Spouse Club where she worked with the scholarship committee to raise more than $20,000 per year with their gift wrapping campaign during the holiday season. She was also a member of the Capital Area Military Spouses.
During the partial government shutdown in 2019, Fryar assisted a local pantry helping military families. She identified resources and helped to get food, funds, and supplies distributed to Coast Guard families at Fort Belvoir. “So I was very active in the military community,” said Fryar.
It’s no surprise that in just two months she has already joined the Scott Air Force Base MOPs in Illinois to offer mentorship within her new community.
“There are a lot of things I have been able to do for Coast Guard spouses by being involved in other groups,” said Fryar. “If I was originally the only Coast Guard spouse there I would keep bringing in more because I wanted Coast Guard spouses to know what was available to them in their local areas, even remote areas without Coast Guard bases—whether for volunteering or for resources for themselves,” she said.
“Connecting military spouses and making sure no one is lacking is my mission.”
Stay tuned for the second part of this story.