Yvonne Coombes is not one to seek attention.

When friends nominated her for Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year, she waited until the night before the deadline to complete the paperwork, unsure if she wanted to open Pandora’s box.

“I’m a very outgoing and gregarious person, but the spotlight is invasive for me,” said Coombes, an Army spouse of 19 years. “I was a little intimidated.”

But the needs of the nonprofit she co-founded, Operation Deploy Your Dress, won out.

“Free dresses don’t exactly give you a big budget,” she said of the organization, which encourages attendance at military balls by offering one free dress and accessory each year to military spouses and female service members who can’t afford them.

In February, Coombes learned that she’d won Fort Carson Spouse of the Year, then Army Spouse of the Year.

She said she was shocked to learn she’d scored both awards and ready to “hit the ground running.” The awards don’t come with a monetary prize, but the platform they provide is reward enough for Coombes.

“It’s really just having that title gives us a little more weight so we can continue to do what we’re doing and even do more,” she said. “It lights a fire under you to step up and do more and be good and be better.”

She’s now awaiting word on whether she’ll take the top prize. The winner was to be announced in May at a Washington, D.C., gala, but it’s been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, she said.

Regardless, she hopes to use her newfound attention to expand her nonprofit and build community among military spouses.

“Until we make sure everyone has some sort of connection they can reach out to in times like this — in the small crises and the big ones we face as a military community — I don’t want to stop,” she said.

“This life is so much when you have people to go through it with.”

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