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NCOs learn to become holistic leaders

Published: 12:49PM February 14th, 2013

Addressing a room full of NCOs on the importance of self-care, Glen Wurglitz, a clinical psychologist and a “Soldier 360” course instructor, told an anecdote about the time he cut himself taking out the trash. The wound became infected when he didn’t take the time to treat it. The treatment of the cut was twice as painful as it would have been if he addressed it right away.

Wurglitz was implying that unseen wounds are easier to downplay than visible ones, but even more serious 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 published in 2011 reported improvements in sleep, general well-being and psychopathology among NCOs who completed the course. Now the instruction has expanded into a pilot NCO leadership course offered at JBLM.

Designed with the understanding that younger NCOs had more experience leading their Soldiers to accomplish wartime missions than garrison peacetime requirements, 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 supervisors.” said retired Army Col. Mary Lopez, Soldier 360 director. “They are the first identifiers of issues and the first responders, who can say, ‘try this.’”

Lopez said because people are complex, single-channel approaches to problems often don’t work.

“If you go to behavioral health they won’t address finances, sleeping problems or spiritual fitness,” she said. “By embracing the holistic approach, the whole person, we really hit more targets.”

Soldier 360 incorporates a variety of topics that affect Soldiers. One class focuses on depression and moves into survivor guilt or post-traumatic stress disorder, but the next class explores injury prevention and revamping profile physical fitness programs within units.

Classes are diverse: each day includes physical elements, like warrior yoga and breathing techniques, discussion sessions and hands-on activities like art therapy or wine tasting. Spouses are encouraged to attend near the end of the course, with a goal to improve family communication skills.

The program encourages leaders to recognize the uniqueness of each Soldier; what might be strange to one leader, like acupuncture for pain management, might work well for another.

Staff Sgt. Marvin Williams, 296th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, said the course helped him be a more creative leader.

“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. “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,” Lopez said. “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.”