Photos, story by Sgt. Melissa Lessard, III Corps Public Affairs
Col. William Zielinski joined the Army in 1995. He is extremely passionate about caring for Soldiers. That passion is evident in his demeanor, and it is reflected in his role as Ready and Resilient Director for III Corps and Fort Hood. As a part of the Army’s People First initiative, Fort Hood is developing the People First Center, which runs its first pilot course October 4-6. Zielinski took a moment to describe the center and his philosophy on caring for Soldiers.
What is the People First Center?
In my words the people first center is an opportunity. So to me, in my heart, it is about making sure people are strong and healthy. Since we have been a nation at war for some 20 years, people are dealing with a lot of wounds inside the heart, inside the families. It’s impacted hundreds of thousands. How do we take individuals that have their own struggles and get beyond that image that everything is great just because my uniform is pressed and I showed up to work on time and I had an excellent PT test score. But to actually know what is going on inside the heart of my battle buddy. We can challenge each other’s preconceived notions of equal opportunity substance abuse, sharp, sexual assault and harassment, suicide prevention, spiritual fitness training, and master resiliency. So how do we take all of those training opportunities and build better cohesive teams. The Center is less about a building and more about an opportunity to build a team.
Why did Fort Hood/ the Army decide to develop the People First Center?
Having been a nation a war with several hundred thousand suffering from PTSD the wounds of war, the focus on deployments and redeployments. What we want to do is bring back the units and focus on what matters the most which is people. What is going on in the heard of individuals. How do we receive someone in their current struggles and how do we understand what they are going through. Provide a little bit of love. Some intentionality’s. Some commitment. Some discipline and understand each other better so we can actually bond. And introduce a new concept called vulnerability. Shared experience. Being unashamed and unafraid to talk about what is going on in the heart for the purpose of building unity so we can understand each other.
What would you like to tell the Soldiers on Fort Hood about the center?
I’d like to say initially don’t focus on the building. It is not the building that matters it’s the people that matter. We are well equipped with the right people who have volunteered to receive companies in exactly where we are at with everyone’s struggles with exactly what they have been going through. Those hidden things, those covered things, those things we many not want to talk about. We are prepared. We will have counselors available. We will have Military and Family Life counselors, social worker, people that can be dynamic and interact so people can engage. To understand the struggles that we are going through. To be unashamed of our past and what we have been through and what we have done. This is a place where we are going to apply some love and understanding of people bring everybody together really to understand we are not that much different.
What does it mean to be a part of the People First Center?
To be part of the people first center is to not be passive. To be part of the people first center is to be an engaged leader. To ask questions. To get back into the art of inquiry. Who are you? This is who I am and modeling that. Where are you from? What are your goals? What are you passions? What can I do to empower you with my knowledge skills and resources? And understanding who am I? Understanding this is my purpose in life and connecting that to another individual, another culture, another country, another time and space.
What is your personal reward in this?
Actually every day is rewarding. I go home and I say I feel like I did exactly what I set out to do today. To just love on people. Which means to me receiving our trainers and elevating them.
What is your legacy? What do you want your successor to take away?
Legacy…What’s my legacy, so I ask my team frequently ‘what is the legacy we are leaving?’ Then encourage them. You have the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy not only for now but for others that come after you. So for me I call it unstoppable positive momentum. To use that gift of encouragement. To elevate that person that is going through a struggle and apply something called vulnerability. Through modeling this is also what I am going through. Let’s break down the masks. Let’s take the mask off of our face for a moment and say that’s who I am not. That’s just the image I have been trying to portray to you. That I am some rank or some experience or something that I want you to believe about me but this is actually who I am. So the question becomes, who am I? How do we encourage people to be real again? Come together and make a difference for somebody else. To be passionate about somebody else being elevated.
The People First Center plans to be fully operational in early 2022. Soldiers can seek a variety of mental, emotional and spiritual support at the center. Additionally, units are set to come through for annual training requirements and to have their leaders certified on People First initiatives. Zielinski’s hope for the center, he said, is that it is a place where “Soldiers can connect again, learn the art of inquiry, and put technology away for a few days to reconnect.”
For more information on the Army’s ‘People First’ program, go to https://www.army.mil/standto/archive/2021/03/26/.