This story is continued from part one, which can be viewed here.
Paulette Fryar’s work doesn’t end with military spouses and moms. She tirelessly took on the challenge of raising awareness for suicide prevention, especially in military circles. It’s another effort that struck close to home.
Shortly after becoming the Military Spouse of the Year, Fryar was personally impacted by the suicide of her cousin, David Heathers, who served in the Marine Corps and was a veteran, serving in Iraq at just 18 years old. Heathers struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), ultimately losing his battle.
“It was emotionally conflicting,” said Fryar. “I got this award because of the military, and yet I know the military was a big part of why my cousin took his own life. I did feel guilty at first—having this award and wondering what my aunt and uncle would think about that.”
This is one of the reasons that Fryar’s aunt, uncle, and family supported her in speaking out about suicide, especially since she had an audience, thanks to winning Military Spouse of the Year.
“We wanted to make it a more common part of the conversation so that more people would feel comfortable in getting help if they struggled with suicidal ideas,” she said.
Fryar knew she had to do something, so she started a pubic Facebook group, The Million Mile Project, which now hosts more than 7,500 members. Its purpose is to encourage 22 days of moving for veteran and military suicide prevention awareness.
“We encourage people to walk, run, ride, swim, rollerblade or whatever to document a million miles,” she said. “And our message has gone far and wide.”
“I started the page with the other branch winners of the military spouse of the year,” said Fryar who explained the significance of the number 22. “It’s not okay that over 22 veterans a day are losing their battle to PTSD.”
Fryar acknowledged her critics who feel as though more could be done and that walking is not going to save someone’s life.
“I can see what they are saying and I am going to listen and see if there’s anything to be learned,” explained Fryar. “They want action and they are in pain but I am not the expert. [The Million Mile Project] It’s a small gesture, a small action of something that I could do,” she said. “It was cathartic for many we heard from, a healing process.”
Fryar’s assertion that she is not an expert in suicide prevention is why she decided not to start her own foundation around the effort. Instead she and the spouses that collaborated, decided to leave the page open and on the 22nd of each month, they are turning the group over to experts and organizations already established. “I think it’s more helpful that way and as experts they can share their advice and resources,” she added.
The future looks bright for Fryar in her role and she is excited to fully embrace her platform as the Military Spouse of the Year. Although still amidst the pandemic, Fryar’s speaking engagement calendar is slowly starting to fill, beginning with the Military Influencers Conference this year, 10-11 November.
“I am excited about using my platform to help Coast Guard families and to connect them to more resources,” said Fryar. “I am not afraid to put myself out there. I pave the way because I can.”