From sex to suicide, nothing was taboo when it came to discussion of issues that affect the readiness and resiliency of troops at the recent week-long Soldier 360 Leaders Course.
The Nov. 2-6 program at Ramstein AB and Nov. 9-13 iteration at Vogelweh focused on communication and ways to improve resiliency, health and wellness -- both mental and physical.
The variety of subjects that have an impact on Soldier well-being, and some recommended ways on how to deal with them, were an eye opener for Staff Sgt. Cesira Matteucci, the criminal law division noncommissioned officer in charge with the 21st Theater Support Command Legal Office.
"There were a lot of good take-aways," said Matteucci, one of the 27 Soldiers at the Ramstein course. "We're in such a high-stress environment just by nature of being in the Army, and this has helped me identify different stress reduction techniques that I can use."
The sergeant said she'd also use the techniques she learned at Soldier 360 to help the junior enlisted staff she supervises, and that's exactly what the course cadre are hoping for in terms of reach.
The course enrollment targets non-commissioned officers as they have the greatest impact on the health and wellness of the unit, explained Brig. Gen. (ret) Steven Salazar. The former commanding general of the Joint Multinational Training Center at Grafenwoehr first approved the program's concept and introduction as a tool to help his Soldiers in 2010 and continues to oversee and champion the course as a civilian.
"This course is not a training program, but is complimentary to Comprehensive Soldier Fitness," he said. "It's made a significant positive difference in how NCOs interact with their young Soldiers. It gives them the capacity and the empathy to help others."
Of course it also helps those NCOs, who Salazar said "live in a culture where they aren't supposed to have problems, they're supposed to fix problems."
Col. (ret) Mary Lopez has also been with the program since its inception and agrees that NCOs can take better care of their Soldiers when they have the tools to understand how to take care of themselves, as well as those around them.
"It's the same concept as the airline safety briefings," explained Lopez, "put your mask on first, then help those around you. We show the NCOs how to help themselves first so that they can give credible guidance in turn. NCOs are primarily the first identifiers and first responders when a Soldier needs help."
Lopez, who helped design the course when she was assigned to the Bavaria Medical Department Activity, added that the course is "not consultative, but collaborative" because the students leave the course not just with knowledge, but with practical ways to employ supportive techniques.
Some of the sessions included biofeedback, sleep therapy, nutrition and fitness, pain management, yoga, hypnosis, alcohol/substance abuse management, post-traumatic stress, depression, anger management, finances, and communication. Spouses were welcome to attend the last two days of the course with a focus on family relationships.
"It is a unique course, offering classes across all five dimensions of strength -- family, emotional, social, spiritual and physical," said Tony Garcia, the U.S. Army Europe Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program manager. "We hope that other subordinate commands come to the USAREUR Ready and Resilient Division to request this course designed to teach junior leaders techniques to improve the resilience of their unit and community."
A large part of the program is also identifying what resources are available in the local community, such as physicians, military family life consultants, chaplains, substance abuse counselors, financial counselors and professionals from Army Community Services and wellness centers.
"All of these services are available on post, but are under-utilized," said Lopez. "It's unfortunate that many people don't understand the value of what's available to them at no cost."
"These aren't just leadership skills," summed up Matteucci. "They are life skills that everybody can benefit from knowing and using."
For more information on the course, contact Garcia at DSN 314-537-1241.