May 8 marks Military Spouse Appreciation Day, the one day each year dedicated to honoring the daily sacrifices made by military spouses. To mark the day, the 2020 Armed Forces Insurance (AFI) Military Spouse of the Year recognized Paulette Fryar, a Coast Guard spouse, the first for that branch of government. Fryar, understanding the difficulty of constantly moving around, has dedicated her time to mentoring young military-spouse moms and creating community among the military spouses.
“One of the things I learned as a new military spouse was that I was going to have to really get out of my shell and reach out in order to create relationships, to take the place of those that I had had back home with family and close friends,” explained Fryar. “I found that to be easy for myself to do, but I noticed that a lot of people around me weren't the same extroverted personality, and maybe had a harder time reaching out and making those connections.”
Fryar’s desire to help those who felt isolated motivated her to become a mentor at Mothers of Preschoolers (M.O.P.S.), an international support program designed to encourage mothers with children under school age through relationships and resources.
Fryar added that being in the Coast Guard specifically oftentimes exacerbates that feeling of isolation, because not only is it the smallest branch in the military but also Coast Guard families do not typically live on a base.
“I found that as a mentor mom there are a lot of Coast Guard spouses and that it was really important to be part of a program where they could connect with young moms,” explained Fryar. “They could see they weren’t alone in dealing with the same situations like deployments, raising children -- often on their own with spouses being away for training or away for deployments -- and having people around them that they could connect to for that support that they were lacking, really made a difference in their happiness and their well-being.”
Fryar told Fox News that she realized how important it was to also have support and connection across branches of the military, because the community becomes that much stronger. Bianca Strzalkowski, the 2011 AFI Military Spouse of the Year, echoed Fryar’s sentiments on the power of community and how the AFI award gives recipients a larger platform to effect change.
“Recipients have advocated for change to the programs that affect our quality of life like education, employment, special needs, military marriages and more,” said Strzalkowski. “It has created a global network among a peer group that has grown stronger through common experiences, resource sharing, and the belief that we can love a service member and pursue our life’s goals.”
Fryar said that she never wants any military mom to feel alone, and that she will continue her mission as a military connector.
“I view myself as a connector of spouses, and I feel that a connected military spouse is going to feel more supported and more hopeful and it's going to help them thrive better in the environment they find themselves in,” said Fryar. “When that young military spouse is feeling supported and connected, their service member, in turn, is better able to fulfill their mission. We all win.”
For more on Fryar’s work and story, watch the full interview above.
Emily DeCiccio is a reporter and video producer for Fox News Digital Originals. Tweet her @EmilyDeCiccio.