JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - "In 33 years in the military, I have never seen anything work like this, never. It helps them be the leaders that they want to be, that they need to be."
That is what Dr. Mary Lopez, a retired colonel and director of the Soldier 360 program, had to say of Soldier 360.
Soldier 360 is a pilot program that began in 2010 while Lopez was still serving on active duty.
"We started out in Germany when I was on active duty, and we had been tasked to do something with the soldiers as they were redeploying. So we started by looking at all the programs that were available and found that it's chaotic out there, with so many different programs," said Lopez. "And there was some specific things that we thought we could do differently; the first one is targeting the [noncommissioned officer]."
Lopez believes by targeting the NCO Corps her program can reach out to more soldiers because leaders will be equipped with the knowledge and techniques to handle an array of situations.
"We've trained about 300 of the JBLM NCOs, but the key is, in an environment of limited recourses, those 300 NCOs supervise 1,200 soldiers, and that's how you get the bang for the buck. That's how it spreads," said Lopez.
Soldier 360 earns its title from its 360 degree approach to development. Students in the course receive instruction ranging from finance management and communication to yoga and healthy lifestyles.
"The other thing that was striking is that all of our programs are the single channel approach. If I have, for example, an alcohol problem, they will send me to [the Alcohol Substance Abuse Program]. ASAP will talk to me about alcohol and alcohol management, but [it's] not gonna go into finances or relationships or pain or sleep problems or all of those multitude of factors that are playing into that alcohol problem," said Lopez. "By taking that total person, this 360 approach, we know we're going to hit a target."
Part of the 360 curriculum offers spouses the opportunity to accompany their soldier to class for two days, where they learn effective ways to communicate with one another.
"I think it was real good because it teaches, not only us, but others who had their spouses there, but it teaches you how to communicate better with each other. A lot of times you're tired [or] heated, just because of work, so when you come home, either yourself or your spouse want to talk about something and you don't want to listen," said Sgt. Alvin Mathis, a noncommissioned officer with Company A, 2nd Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. "So it gave us a tool as far as how to sit down and be able to listen to each other, talk and negotiate, and be able to enjoy the rest of the evening."
Jessica Mathis, spouse of Sgt. Mathis, took leave from work to attend Soldier 360 with her husband, and described the opportunity as, "good."
"I think it's good because you connect with your spouse and it gives the spouses tools as well. You see what they're doing all day and see what their learning, and see if it's a waste of time, and it's not a waste of time," said Jessica Mathis.
A part from communication strategies, couples took part in couple's yoga.
"I liked it. I had fun. I've been trying to get him to do hot yoga with me, so we will definitely do more yoga," said Mathis.
Soldiers participating in the course perform yoga every morning as part of the physical fitness program in Soldier 360.
"It's something different. It gives you new tools for stretching, plus you get a workout," said Sgt. Mathis.
Of the couple's yoga, Sgt. Mathis described it as a lesson in working as a team.
"I felt good about it. I think this taught us how to get along working as a team, plus it takes a whole lot of trust; her trusting me to hold her in the air and me trusting her as far as her on my back, so it was really good," said Sgt. Mathis.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. was the first Army installation to incorporate Soldier 360 into its training cycle when Lopez retired and brought Soldier 360 to the continental U.S. Fort Bragg, N.C. has also added the program into its training cycle.
Soldier 360 is funded until the end of September, but Lopez is confident the program will continue.
"We're funded until the end of September. After that I don't know what will happen, but somewhere, somehow I think we'll continue to get support," said Lopez.
Lopez has the support of the Mathis family, and while that may not result in more funding for Soldier 360, the program has made a difference in their lives.
"I've never heard of this program until now. I heard maybe this program could go away. I really would like for this program to stay so others can experience this, because it's actually a program where the instructors are not just here to make a check. They're actually involved and it helps a whole lot," said Sgt. Mathis.
Mrs. Mathis ended with a solution, saying, "They should push not to cut it. With all these budget cuts we're going through, we should keep this. They should cut other things and save money elsewhere, but they should keep this."