Rising Through Resilience: Master Sgt. Stacey Munoz of U.S. Army Reserve Command On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine
19 min readOct 24, 2021

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Build Relationships- Resilient people can’t do everything on their own. Take time out of you day to connect with others. Make an effort to call an old friend or loved one and catch up with what is going on in their lives. It is important for our resilience to be there for others in challenging situations but it is also important to be there for the good. Share the things you are grateful for with them. Resilient people know that asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness.

Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Master Sgt. Stacey Muñoz.

Master Sgt. Stacey Muñoz serves on the Master Resilience Training program for the U.S. Army Reserve Command, which helps Soldiers learn coping and adaptability skills. She is an Army Master Fitness Trainer with a focus on nutrition, personal training, and mindset practices, supporting mental health and wellness programs across the Army.

As an Army trainer, Master Sgt. Muñoz can provide tips on mindset and resiliency that helps Soldiers maintain the non-physical elements of fitness, like mental and nutritional heath, in order to balance achieving career goals with the toughness required to serve as an Army Soldier. While these resiliency skills apply to her work with Soldiers, Master Sgt. Muñoz also leverages those skills in her personal life with her family of eight children, including 17-year-old triplets.

Master Sgt. Muñoz’s military education includes Master Fitness Course and Master Resiliency Trainer Course level 1–3, and her civilian education includes an Associates Exercise Science focusing on Nutrition and personal training.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I am originally from California but left home for Basic Training in 1998, and haven’t been back home much since. I recently got married and now my husband and I have a large, blended family with eight children that test our resiliency daily. I have traveled all over the country teaching resilience to Soldiers and civilians, sharing tools to help them become the best version of themselves. It is the most rewarding job in the world to be part of a team that is dedicated in helping others reach their full potential in all aspects of their lives. I practice skills daily and learn something new every day, and I love my job.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

My entire military career has been interesting. A few years ago, I went to California as part of a training team. Our mission was to train and evaluate Soldiers that wanted to take the next step and become a facilitator on our Master Resilience Training Teams. As I approached the training building for in processing, I heard a laugh that I recognized that I had not heard in about 10 years! It was my ex-husband’s laugh. We finally made eye contact and I asked him what he was doing there. He said he was attending the Resilience Course, and I said, “Me too.” The next day, the Primary Instructor introduced the cadre to the students and that is when my ex-husband realized I was part of the cadre, not a student. It was really awkward at first but we have always been very professional and there were no issues at all. After the course was over we took some time to talk. We both gained closure, insight and forgiveness not only for the other person but for ourselves. This is yet another example of how passionate I am about the Master Resilience Program, in the weirdest ways and places I am always given opportunities to practice the skills I have learned from this course. He is happily married with kids and now teaches resilience on training teams too, and I am happy for him. It reminds me that tough moments are not permanent and how much other people really matter.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

As an Army Reserve Soldier you have to be flexible and adapt, which is really what resiliency is all about. I think there is a renewed focus, especially in the current COVID environment, on balance and being mindful. The U.S. Army Reserve is more like the civilian sector in that it relies on relationships in their communities and at work to maintain that balance.

One of the biggest differences for the U.S. Army Reserve is that more than 90 percent of the force juggles their military duties with a full time career or pursuing their education. We are also geographically dispersed: nearly 200,000 Soldiers in 2,000 units across every time zone.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have been blessed with so many wonderful people in my life that have taught me how to be a leader. I may have had some leadership traits within me but having mentors and role models along the way has helped mold me into the leader I am today. Early on in my military career, I was just coming home from a 15-month deployment, going through a divorce, trying to sell my home and move across country to my new duty station, and registering my kids set in new schools all while being a single parent. I was under a lot of stress at the time and when you are under a lot of stress and try and compartmentalize (aka avoid) it, you can make mistakes. Well, I was making some significant mistakes to the point it affected my job. My Command Sergeant Major called me into his office talked with me, he let me know that he believed in me and that I didn’t have to go through hardship alone. CSM Z changed my life and I am so grateful for his leadership and mentorship. He believed in me before I knew how to believe in myself and that gave me hope.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

We have all gone through adversity, especially during COVID. Life can be hard, and challenging, so for me resilience is not about just bouncing back from that adversity or surviving hardship, resilience is about moving through our hardships, maneuvering through our struggles and growing from them. We become stronger from our struggles, we learn how to thrive not just survive. But resilience is not just about getting through difficult situations, it is also about being grateful for those wonderful moments and the connections that we build. Resilience is about being flexible and optimistic, knowing what is in our control and what is not and being able to focus our energy on what we can control. Resilience is about connection and understanding that other people matter and you have people in your life that you can count on, not only when things go wrong but also when things go right.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

I believe courage is embedded in resilience. Some people may look at the armed forces and automatically think “courage and bravery,” we fight wars and train for battle and yes, those things are courageous but why? Because courage is doing something despite being afraid, and most people don’t realize that courage doesn’t always feel like courage. When you see someone speak up when others won’t or can’t, that is courage. When you are having a really hard day and want to crawl under a rock and hide but instead reach out to a friend and be vulnerable and talk about what is going on with you, that is courage. Holding yourself accountable when you make mistakes and owning your actions, that is courage. Courage is built in the small choices we make every day, when we step outside of our comfort zone and do the hard work. Those daily “ordinary” acts of courage are contagious and inspire others to be courageous as well. Resiliency needs courage and courage needs resiliency.

I am doing a lot of work on my own worth and value with my holistic coach, Missy . I put so much pressure on myself and seek external validation to measure my worthiness. For example, I feel valuable and purposeful as long as I am in action and doing something. When I don’t have external validation, my self-doubt creeps in and I start attacking myself with, “did I do enough, did I try hard enough, should I be doing better?” My coach, Missy, asked me one day, “What do people that are ‘enough’ do? … Nothing, because they already know they are enough and have nothing to prove.” Mic drop. I am working on doing nothing when the opportunity arises. If a moment comes up where I am not doing something, instead of telling myself I have to keep moving or that I should be doing something, I am leaning into practicing self love and compassion, and learning to sit still and be present. For me, this is all new and uncomfortable and very courageous, and yet another way we build resilience.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

My grandpa, Edward Martel. He was the most optimistic and resilient person I knew. He would make me orange marmalade toast in the morning while singing and smiling constantly. He had an energy that people were drawn to. What most people didn’t know about my grandpa was that he was an Army tank driver stationed in the Philippines during World War II. During that conflict, his unit surrendered to Japanese forces and were forced to march 55 miles to an internment camp. The historic movement is now known as the Bataan Death March. My grandfather was part of this march and although more than10,000 Soldiers died during that march he said, “I was just positive I was going to make it, that’s the only way to be.”

He spent the next 3 1/2 years in prison camps and forced into slave labor. The most remarkable thing about my grandpa was after that entire experience he reenlisted. He continued to serve our country for another 20 years. When I go through rough moments and I start to lose hope, I think of my grandpa. Sometimes life throws us curve balls and it is hard to deal with those moments. Just remember moments are only moments and you are capable of so much more than you know. Focus on what you can control in those situations. My grandpa taught me that even though you cannot control everything that happens to you, you can control how you want to show up each day.

This is an extreme story of resilience but day to day resilience looks similar. There have been so many days where life is difficult — arguing with your spouse, loss of sleep, parenting — but you manage to pull through and get through another moment — that is resilience. Trust me, resilience is not always pretty and put together. Sometimes resilience is muddling through and making it moment by moment. I see people practicing resilience daily and that inspires me just as much as my grandpa.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Hahaha, so many times!! Joining the military, being a single parent Soldier, competing in Spartan Races. If I am being honest, it is not usually someone else telling me something is impossible, it is usually me telling myself something is impossible. I have been my biggest critic and still try and talk myself out of doing something, mostly out of fear; fear of failure, fear of not living up to the potential, fear of not being perfect, fear of what others may say or think. Putting yourself out there and being completely vulnerable is scary but it is not as scary as living a life with regret and shame. One year, I was competing for Soldier of the Year, I had so much doubt, I convinced myself that someone like me could not do this. During the board, I was so stuck in my head that I barely spoke and I failed. The next year, I was asked to give it a second shot and try again and I really did not want too. I was still very embarrassed about my performance the year before. I thought about my grandpa and focused on what I could control and stopped wasting my energy on the “what ifs.” I started winning each board and began competing at higher levels, across the U.S. until there was only one board left to earn the title “Soldier of the Year”. The board took place in Illinois and my grandpa showed up and waited for me in the lobby. I had gained confidence with my speaking abilities and wanted to dedicate this final board in my grandpa’s honor. I reported to the board members with poise and confidence and when I was dismissed each board member came out with tears in their eyes and shook my grandpa’s hand and thanked him for his service. Two weeks later, I received a phone call announcing I had won the “Soldier of the Year” for the entire U.S. Army. and there was a banquet I needed to attend and they would be honored if my grandpa could be an honored guest. During the banquet, my grandpa looked so proud and during an interview he looked at me and said, “this moment makes up for all that I have ever been through”. The first time I tried something I failed miserably. If I would have stopped there and gave in to my inner critic, gave into the fear, I could have missed one of the most precious moments in my life with my grandfather. When someone tells you something is impossible, show up anyway. Do the work, lean into the fear, get through the obstacle and when you come out on the other side, you will inspire others that anything is possible as long as you continue to show up and do the work.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

It goes back to the beginning of this interview, when asked is there a person I am grateful towards who helped get me to where I am today. I recently started sharing this story in my resilience training as a reminder that we all struggle, even leaders. It is okay to ask for help and support when you are struggling and you are not alone. My childhood was very interesting and there was a lot of trauma. In order to protect myself and avoid shame and judgement, I pretended that I was perfect. I was terrified of letting others down and disappointing people. I believed if I was PERFECT, I could minimize or avoid pain, shame and judgement. I was praised for performances and achievements, basically for my people pleasing ability and for being what everyone wanted me to be. I carried my perfectionism through adulthood, parenthood and through my military career. I wholeheartedly believed that I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Failing and/or mistakes were unacceptable to me and if I made them it would show others who I really was and they would know I was not good enough.

I was going through a stressful time in my life and I did not know how to ask for support or help. I thought I was compartmentalizing when really all I was doing was avoiding dealing with what was going on with me. I remember feeling broken and insignificant and I felt like a coward. The shame that I carried did not let me see that I was making mistakes. Instead, it told me that I was the mistake. After a while ,the pain and anxiety grew unbearable. I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to feel what I was feeling anymore and I made a choice to end my life.

When they found me, my heart had already stopped beating. The paramedics started CPR and worked quickly but still couldn’t find a pulse. They pumped adrenaline shots through the heart and finally my heart started beating again. I was light-headed and dizzy and everything was out of focus but as the faded noises came forward, the blurred vision became clear, I realized I was in a hospital, and I realized I was still alive! The first thought that came to my mind was, I CAN’T EVEN KILL MYSELF RIGHT! I AM PATHETIC!

I was transported to a facility to get me the support that I needed and I had to fully immerse myself in intense work and deal with my thoughts, emotions and behaviors. I dealt with trauma that I pushed away and learned ways in which to cope with stress. After I was released from the hospital I thought that my military career was going to come to an end because the Army needed strong Soldiers and I had proven that I did not have what it takes. However, my Command Sergeant Major looked at me and said, “I only have one question for you! How does it feel to be human? You walk around like you are superhero, nothing can get to you. Sure, you have success through your accomplishments, but it is through mistakes and failures that you will grow and develop COMPASSION AND COURAGE not only for yourself but for others. Humans make mistakes, humans mess up and you are human. I know this is hard right now but we will get through this together and you will grow to be a phenomenal leader, guiding others and being present for them and yourself. I see you and I believe in you”.

This one leader’s belief in me changed the trajectory of my life. I can be vulnerably present and share my story, embracing all of my beautiful imperfections, no matter how scary they feel at the time. I know my purpose is to help as many people as I can and help them learn through the most challenging moments and how to thrive in life. I am honored to be part of the Resilience Team where we are cultivating change and showing up for others. It is important to remember that even leaders struggle but we are never alone and one person can change your entire life.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

One of my favorite memories growing up was when my mom took us camping. It was the most amazing experience. We didn’t have a tent and slept right under the stars! We told stories and sang songs and bathed in the creek. I was only seven at the time, but I vowed if I had kids of my own I would take them camping just like my mom took me and my siblings, and I would share this wonderful experience with them.

Many years later that day came and I was so excited to tell my mom! When I called her, she was really confused and told me that we never camped as kids. I reminded her of our adventures, she gasped and told me that we weren’t camping, we were homeless. She told me stories about my childhood that I never knew, how my father was a drug lord in California and things started getting bad, and she feared her life and the safety of our lives and knew she had to leave. She was so scared that he would find us, so she took us off the grid, aka “camping”. We camped for months, traveling state to state, never staying in one location too long. I think about how resilient my mom was. The most terrifying moment in her life, she made into the most wonderful amazing adventure in mine. It is always a gentle reminder that you can find the good in any situation and there is so much to be grateful for. Focus on what you can control and don’t waste your energy on what you cannot.

My mom taught me a lot about self-reliant resilience. Although it was a powerful lesson, it also formed a false belief that “strong people hold it all in and keep it together,” which I have found not to be true. If I looked at the story of our camping trip a little closer, I would have noticed that she had help. My mom’s coworker was with us camping. Resilience can be self-reliant, but it is also about connection and being sure of someone.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Resilience is a muscle and you have to practice it daily in different areas of life. You will never reach resilience as a destination because life is unpredictable and we are human. Trust and believe our resilience can be tested every day. 5 areas that I have been practicing and that help build resilience are:

Move your body- Being active can help to reduce feelings of stress. Even small movements, such as taking a regular walk outside, can make a big difference. Staying active can boost your resilience significantly. Remember it does not have to be a hard core workout, heck even you can even dance around your house, just get that body moving.

Practice Gratitude Daily- It is so easy to focus on the bad things that happen throughout the day but we must also remember that there is good in every day as well. Each day write down three things you are grateful for and also a reflection on what was good about it. The reflection in our gratitude will help you savor that moment. Reflecting on the good things in your life can change your perspective and give you a greater sense of self-control. Gratitude practices are scientifically proven to rewire our brains to be more optimistic and resilient.

Build Relationships- Resilient people can’t do everything on their own. Take time out of you day to connect with others. Make an effort to call an old friend or loved one and catch up with what is going on in their lives. It is important for our resilience to be there for others in challenging situations but it is also important to be there for the good. Share the things you are grateful for with them. Resilient people know that asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness.

Self Care- Take time for yourself to rest and rejuvenate. Resilient people take breaks. You can’t be at your best if you don’t look after yourself. Self-compassion is a key part of resilience and is the opposite of self-criticism. When you take care of yourself it increases your ability to cope with negative emotions and makes you more willing to accept both your strengths and your imperfections.

Live in the moment- Fully immerse yourself in what you are doing or not doing. If you are eating dinner with friends or family, turn your cell phone off and be present with them. Enjoy the moment and take it all in. In those moments where you have nothing to do, sit still with yourself, lean into the opportunity to rest. You are worth it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I strongly believe that the Army is making a cultural shift now with the introduction on the Holistic Health and Fitness Program. We are changing the way we train and invest in empowering and equipping our Soldiers to take charge of their health, fitness and well-being. We are focusing on mental wellness and acuity, building agility, adaptable and fit Soldiers. For me, 2020 was an intense year, my resiliency was tested daily (especially with a blended family and eight kids). We have to learn to take care of ourselves better and take care of each other better. If I could bottle up compassion and empathy and send it out to everyone, I would. I think sometimes we get so wrapped up in the day to day we forget that we are all in this together and that everyone has something going on in their lives. Showing empathy and compassion to others and ourselves is so important and I believe that the Resilience Program the Army is teaching is a phenomenal step in the right direction of being there for one another. We have to pay more attention to each other and know our team. I have a phenomenal boss who knows me very well. For example, I remember when our team had just finished up at a huge conference. I was listening to some office chat and I took something that was said completely wrong. I got up with a bit of attitude and started heading to the bathroom. When he my boss asked if I was okay, I responded, “I’m fine” and walked down the hall. When I came out of the bathroom, he was standing in the hallway waiting for me and asked if we could talk. When we went to a private office, I started crying and told him I was exhausted and not sleeping very well. I was very embarrassed for overreacting to something small. He listened without judgement and let me get it all out. We need more leaders like this. He knew me so well and could tell that something was off with me. Instead of turning away from it, he leaned in and checked on me. I know I am part of a caring team that has my back and I have theirs in return. If I could inspire people to do one thing, it would be getting to know your team, your family and yourself. I believe resilience training helps us lean into those opportunities more.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

Hands down, Brene Brown (and that even rhymes). I absolutely love Brene’s work and she has truly inspired me to show up and be vulnerable not just with work but more importantly with my family and with myself. I would love to have lunch with her and her sisters and just be part of her tribe.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Visit GoArmy.com to learn about life in the U.S. Army, as well as examples of resiliency from our Soldiers serving around the globe.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor