Addressing a room full of noncommissioned officers on the importance of self-care, Glen Wurglitz, a clinical psychologist and instructor with the Soldier 360 course, told a simple anecdote about the time he cut himself while taking out the trash.
Rather than taking the time to treat the injury, he ignored it, and the wound became infected. Once the cut was infected, the treatment was twice as painful as it would have been if he addressed it right away.
Wurglitz was implying that internal wounds can be even easier to downplay, but are just as impactful and even more so, if left untreated.
Soldier 360 began in Germany to address the difficulties Soldiers faced during post deployment reintegration. Objective analysis by the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCOE) published in 2011 showed proven outcomes in the improvement of sleep, general well-being and psychopathology by NCOs who completed the course. Now the course has expanded into a pilot NCO leadership course offered at JBLM.
Designed with the understanding that younger NCOs had more experience training and leading their soldiers for the wartime mission than the garrison environment, the course addresses two basic principles: to be an effective leader you have to practice good self-care, and to help your soldiers you have to be aware of the resources available to them.
“NCOs are the critical front-line supervisor. They are the first identifier of issues and the first responder, who can say, ‘try this.’ How do they deal with the challenges of today? How do you set them up for success?” said retired Army Col. Mary Lopez, Soldier 360 Director. “People are complex organisms. There are a lot of wonderful programs out there, but they take a single channel approach. For example, if you go to behavioral health they won’t address finances, sleeping problems or spiritual fitness. By embracing the holistic approach, the whole person, we really hit more targets.”
Soldier 360 incorporates a wide variety of topics which affect soldiers. For example, one class will focus on depression and then move into survivor guilt or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but the next class explores injury prevention and revamping profile physical fitness programs within their units.
Additionally, the teaching environment is varied to keep the NCOs engaged. Each day includes physical elements, like warrior yoga and breathing techniques, discussion sessions and hands-on situations such as art therapy or smart wine tasting. Toward the end of the course, spouses are encouraged to attend. The goal is to improve family communication skills and show the Army also recognizes the struggles of the families.
The program also encourages leaders to think outside the box to adjust for the reality that all soldiers are unique; what might be strange to one leader, like acupuncture for pain management, might work well for one of their peers or subordinates.
Staff Sgt. Marvin Williams, 296th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, said the course helped him be more creative in the ways he will address soldier issues going forward.
“This course is a good way for NCOs to come together to learn different ways to handle a situation, possibly a better way,” said Williams, who twice deployed to Iraq during his eight years of service. “I would definitely recommend this course to other NCOs. My wife is in the military, she’s an NCO with the 24th Quartermaster Company, and I told her if she’s able, to take the course herself. It provides you with information about programs that already existed but you hadn’t known about previously.”
Williams said his favorite part of the course was the group discussion on spiritual health. He also said he benefited from the one-on-one meeting with a financial counselor. In fact, improving the readiness of the NCOs themselves is a key element to the course. Lopez described it as, ‘just one step in an overall campaign the Army has created to improve the fitness of all soldiers.’
“Some senior leaders and old NCOs are like ‘we don’t want to make them soft.’ It’s not making them soft. There are times when you still have to drink water and carry on, absolutely, the mission still requires it,” said Lopez. “But at the same time, you have to recognize that in order to be as effective as you can be as a soldier, and stay focused on the mission, you have to be able to manage your own stuff.”
Lopez likes to tell the story of an infantryman who came to the course with a negative perception about how useful it would be to him. He told her he was a trained killer, and he wasn’t interested in doing yoga or talking about his feelings, but by the end of the course, he told her he realized that all soldiers are humans first. Not only that, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and now, he said he didn’t even see the tunnel, he just saw the light, and he was racing right for it.
“And I thought, ‘Wow.’ That makes a guy a more effective soldier. All of a sudden he says, ‘I can be happy. I am good.’ And that is the thing that we need to take care of,” said Lopez.