A woman from Vancouver was awarded a major national prize for spouses of military members, an honor linked to her work mentoring fellow military moms of young children.
Paulette Fryar, who lived in Vancouver from her school years to her 30s, was awarded the 2020 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year last week. She’s the first spouse of a member of the Coast Guard to win the award since it was founded in 2008.
It was a huge shock to win such a prestigious national title, Fryar told The Columbian Tuesday. She’d found out in March that she had been named the Coast Guard’s branch winner along with five other military spouses, but taking the top prize wasn’t something she’d expected.
“I was nominated unbeknownst to me,” Fryar said. “All the candidates are so fabulous, and are so deserving and so impressive.”
Fryar works as a mentor through Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPs), a support program for mothers who have spouses in the military. The program is geared toward helping moms handle the distinct challenges that come with military life — frequent moves, raising kids far from family support networks, and oftentimes parenting alone while their spouse is deployed.
Fryar could relate. While her kids are all college-age now, she’s been a mother of young children and a military spouse. It can be lonely, she said.
“These young moms are away from their parents, aunts, uncles — that close network you would normally rely on,” Fryar said. “I just find it vital to have a program like that to find support. Someone to tell you, you’re doing a great job, you’re not alone, I’m here for you. Those things made a huge difference to me.”
Fryar’s family moved to Vancouver when she was in grade school, where she remained until 2006. Then Paulette Corrigan, she attended Hudson’s Bay High School where she met her eventual husband, fellow student Troy Fryar.
They’d remained friends for years, eventually reconnecting and getting married in 2006. Both had two sons, and Fryar became the mom to a blended family of four young boys.
Their first move of many was to Juneau, Alaska. The Fryars are now stationed at the Personnel Service Center at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington D.C., but they’re in the middle of a move to St. Louis.
It was at the D.C. center that Fryar started thinking about supporting the program that had once supported her as a young mom.
“When we got here, I really felt it was time to start giving back,” Fryar said.
She helps run the center’s big MOPs group meetings, organizing speakers and activities a few times a month. Each year, she also works with a smaller, more intimate group of eight to 12 moms, checking in regularly and offering help and advice where she can.
It’s an odd time to win a major award, acknowledged Fryar, who appears on the cover of the June 2020 issue of Military Spouse Magazine.
While she’s still giving national press interviews, COVID-19 has restricted most of the events and ceremonies to remote broadcasts only. Fryar watched the ceremony announcing the winner — usually an extravagant event held in Arlington, Va. — from her home, while on a Zoom call with the other branch winners.
During normal times, the award’s winner would also attend a luncheon this week with the Vice President’s wife, Karen Pence. That’s on hold, for obvious reasons, Fryar said.
“It’s been very different this year, Hopefully we’ll be able to reschedule some things,” Fryar said.
Luckily, she said, winning the award isn’t a singular event — it’s the start of a yearlong campaign. Fryar said she hopes to use her platform to set up more MOPs programs at military bases around the world on top of the 52 currently operating.
“This is really the beginning of a year of activity,” she said.
Fryar’s parents still live in Vancouver.