Faces From the Front for October 25, 2010 - Staff Sgt. Sebastian Zarasua
Current Unit: Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery
Current Position: Battalion Master Resilience Trainer
Component: Active Army
Current Location: Iraq
Hometown: Crawford, Neb.
Years of Service: 7
With multiple deployments stretching the Army’s Soldiers’ endurance and strength in ways that were never anticipated at the beginning of the current conflicts, the Army has searched for new ways to support Soldiers personally and professionally, and ensure they remain battle ready. As a result, the U.S. Army has implemented a Master Resilience Training (MRT) program over the last year, aimed at helping Soldiers become self-aware, fit and balanced individuals who are better prepared to face and manage future life challenges. As the program began, Staff Sgt. Sebastian Zarasua was heading off to Iraq, where he now works to ensure the 415 Soldiers in his battalion participate in the MRT course.
The MRT course is part of the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, a coordinated effort to enhance the fitness and resiliency of every Soldier and Army civilian through development of the five dimensions of strength including emotional, social, spiritual, physical and family.
“Resilience Training is a new program the Army has created to help Soldiers deal with real life problems. This training teaches Soldiers to become better aware of their thought process, identifies energy management techniques, addresses how to solve problems effectively, and identifies ways to build connections with their loved ones,” Zarasua explained.
“This training helps Soldiers deal with their problems by showing them better ways to think about situations; what is causing them to feel a certain way, how to be optimistic about situations, and how to control their emotions. Lastly, it helps them realize that it’s okay to ask for help,” Zarasua added.
Zarasua knows that the implementation of the MRT course has come at a pivotal time for the Army’s Soldiers.
“I think this training is so important because as we have become a rapid deploying Army, our Soldiers are having trouble addressing their problems effectively. Therefore, the Army has had increases in suicide, divorce, alcohol & drug abuse, and spousal abuse,” Zarasua explained. “I believe our younger Soldiers are put into situations they are not yet ready for and our Soldiers who have been in for awhile just can't quite figure out what is wrong.”
Likewise, Zarasua realizes that the implementation of the training reflects the Army’s changing opinions and evolving viewpoints on strength and mental and emotional health.
“The fact that the Army is pushing Soldiers at all levels to understand their thought process and emotions is important. Today’s Army is not the same as it once was. It’s important that the Army talks about feelings and emotions because our Soldiers are under so much stress for so many reasons. If we as leaders and battle buddies don’t try to talk about feelings and emotions, then we may never know what is bothering someone.”
Zarasua works to educate his Soldiers through a variety of teaching methods. In conjunction with his lectures, Zarasua works to put the MRT principles into practice by coming up with various scenarios throughout the class and allowing Soldiers to respond with their suggestions on the best method to deal with each mock situation. Starting this month, Zarasua is beginning the second half of the course. During this part of the training, Zarasua will meet with his Soldiers in small groups to discuss how they applied the information taught during the first part of the course.
Zarasua knows that his methods of teaching are effective, as he’s seen firsthand the difference his work is making in the lives of his Soldiers.
“As the training has progressed, I have had numerous Soldiers come up to me and tell me ‘Thank you Sergeant, I have used this training since I have been out here.’ It feels amazing to know that I am impacting lives,” Zarasua said. “It feels incredible when a Soldier comes up to me and says ‘Thank you for teaching me this training, it has helped me realize things I couldn't see before.’”
The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program is designed to enhance resilience and life-coping strategies, enabling Soldiers, their family members and Army civilians to survive and thrive in an era of very high operational tempo and persistent conflict. Zarasua believes in the value of the MRT and is pleased with the positive effects his fellow Soldiers have seen as a result of the course. That said, one of the most challenging aspects of his deployment has been trying to show skeptical Soldiers how useful the course can be.
“I know that not all of the Soldiers have taken a liking to this training, but the majority of the Soldiers have. The most challenging thing about this deployment is trying to convince Soldiers that the training can be effective if they want it to be,” Zarasua said. “They may not need the training now, but someday when the Soldiers are having trouble, they will remember me and what I had to say.”
Staff Sgt. Zarasua is scheduled to return home in March. He looks forward to reuniting with his sister, Katie, for whom he is a legal guardian.
While it’s been difficult for Zarasua to balance his responsibilities as a big brother and guardian with his work as a Soldier during his deployment, his Army family has helped him and his sister throughout this tour.
“I have some Soldiers’ wives who have been looking after her. If Katie needs anything, without hesitation, those wives will do anything for her. And I would just like to thank them, without them I really don’t know what I would do.”
After spending some time with his sister, Zarasua plans to reenlist and become an Army recruiter. “I am looking forward to talking to civilians about the Army and what good it has done for me,” Zarasua said.