FORT BENNING, Ga., (Nov. 12, 2014) -- Forty noncommissioned officers took part in the Soldier 360 Leaders Course Nov. 3-7 at Fort Benning's Uchee Creek Campground Lodge.
"The mission of 360 is to strengthen the backbone of the Army, to develop strong leaders, to give those strong leaders more tools in their toolkit to manage and respond to the challenges that their Soldiers are facing today," said Army retired Col. Mary Lopez, Ph.D, and director of the Soldier 360 Program.
Organizers of the Soldier 360 Leaders Course thanked the USO of Georgia for sponsoring the program held at Fort Benning.
The course is for NCOs, as they have the most impact on the health and wellness of the unit, according to organizers of the program. NCOs who attended the course were nominated by their commander or first sergeant to further develop their leadership style and skills.
The program covered numerous topics, including stress management, journaling, nutritional fitness, couples and parent-child communication, leadership and suicide prevention.
The program began with introductions and a segment on stress management and involved a focus on breathing. Throughout the week Soldiers were offered acupuncture therapy for pain management, finance session opportunities, tips on personal hygiene and information on injury management.
Aside from PowerPoint slides, Soldiers participated in discussions on deployments, took part in warrior yoga and some took the opportunity to be hypnotized.
Staff Sgt. Shayne Semetara of F Company, 1st Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment, said the program was a huge benefit to him and said, thanks to hypnosis by Lopez, he has quit smoking.
"Dr. Lopez has changed my life, I think, dramatically for multiple reasons," he said. "I've been smoking for 12 years, and it just took a matter of one day of talking to Dr. Lopez and I feel like I never want to see (cigarettes) again."
Lopez said the program was created when she was on active duty in Germany in 2009. She said she and the commander of the multinational training command wanted to do something with redeployment. They collected research, looked at existing programs and gathered experts, such as Glen Wurglitz, a psychologist and Catholic priest who helped lead the program at Fort Benning. When Lopez retired, she said sponsors of the program in the Department of Defense wanted to continue the program and thus funded some initiatives.
The program has since been held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
According to information released by the organizers of the program, more than 1,600 Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Guardsmen have attended the course since its inception and have rated it as "the best course of their military careers."
"When you start taking a 360 look at people, then you end up with a much more effective behavior change," Lopez said.
On the last two days, the program allows spouses to participate. On these days, NCOs and their spouses participated in couples yoga, listened to advice on parent-child communication and heard discussions on mindful sex and relationships and domestic violence.
"Communication is huge," Semetara said, noting the importance of communication in Families as well as with Soldiers.
Semetara said he does a lot of weightlifting, but found the yoga portion refreshing and found value in doing couples yoga with his wife.
"We're testing each other's capabilities of trust that we have in each other," he said. "Even if we couldn't complete an exercise, it didn't matter, we just gave each other our 100 percent trust, that's all that matters."
Reported benefits of the 360 Leaders Course include decreases in hostility, improvements in sleep habits, and greater improvements in satisfaction with marriage and financial situations.
Semetara's wife, Kathleen, said her husband came home happier after his first day in the Soldier 360 program.
She said her husband came home and told her all the issues he had over the years had been lifted off of his shoulders.
"I just noticed his passion in talking about it," she said.
Lopez said, through the course, the NCOs can help their Soldiers by speaking from experience.
"Give the best to the best," Lopez said. "You have to focus on (the NCOs) because if that key element is not strong, then you don't have a good, strong system."
For information on the Soldier 360 Leaders Course, visit www.360-program.com, call 510-815-3916 or email email@example.com.