360 Degree Leader: What rocks are you carrying?

Dr. Mary Lopez, a retired Army colonel and 360 Program co-founder, engages in an exercise called 3 by 3 with Staff Sgt. Peter Tuinei-Flora, 56th Signal Battalion, during the 360 Program at the Vogel Resiliency Center, May 16, 2019. The purpose of 3 by 3 is to open good communication lines between spouses by sitting knee-to-knee and allowing one spouse to speak for three minutes without interruption. The week-long course offered Non-Commissioned Officers from the Army and Air Force sessions focusing on breathing and relaxation response, physical fitness, relationships and communication to help them become better leaders. The intent was not to focus on just one component but the whole person-thus 360° Leader. (U.S. Army photo by Lauren Padden)
May 20, 2019

There’s an iconic image of a soldier from the 173rd Airborne Brigade on bent knee, loaded down with more gear than you can imagine anyone could carry. The 360° Leader Program taught here at the Vogel Resiliency Center this week, began with this image.

“As an Army, we looked at this image and said, ‘Wow, we really are putting a lot on these Soldiers physically,’ they’re carrying physically a lot of stuff,” said Steve Salazar, Brig. Gen. Retired U.S. Army and 360 Program co-founder.

It’s not just physical baggage, the Army realized there is mental baggage weighing down their Soldiers too.

“Every policy, everything that we are trying to do in our military ultimately comes down to the Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) which are the backbone of the Army.” Salazar said. “You know what we do with our backbone right? Everything rests on that backbone. They have accumulated these rocks and they are metaphorically carrying them in their lives, in their rucksacks and they don’t have the resources and many cases they just don’t take the time to deal with it.”

Thus the 360° Program developed a week-long resiliency program to help unburden leaders of the weight they are carrying and give them tools to become better NCOs and leaders. The program is not just for Soldiers, Airmen also took part and covered topics such as breathing and relaxation response, physical fitness, relationships and communication and resiliency.

Salazar emphasized that when we have a problem, be it physical problem, emotional, or financial, we tend to address them in our military system in a single dimension, but these things are all complex problems. However, they all go together, which is part of the reason why the program is termed 360° Leader because it’s every component of their life.

The classroom setting was a both a learning environment as well as workout room for various physical activities such as yoga and soft tissue massage.

It also allowed the NCOs to share personal testimonies, observe skits dealing with home life scenarios and ultimately give the NCOs tools to change their behavior.

One of those tools was communication and word power.

Dr. Mary Lopez, a retired Army Colonel and 360 program co-founder explained, “There is a power of words, once you change your words, you change the world.”

One tool to emphasize this point was an exercise called 3 by 3. During the exercise the Soldiers shad to sit knee to knee with their spouse, while holding hands and for three minutes only one person spoke, making direct eye contact with their spouse. The exercise allowed one person to voice what they needed to without interruption before switching. This exercise is used to increase communication within marriage to improve the Soldier’s personal life and the attitude they bring to the work place as well.

Staff Sgt. Charles Campbell, Regional Health Command Central, said he knows a lot of NCOs who could benefit from this course and shared why it was so valuable to him.

“We can’t forget that just like every other piece of equipment, you’re not gonna take an M-16 to the range, fire a thousand rounds, and then throw it right back into the armory,” said Campbell. “You’re going to take some time, you’re gonna break it down, you’re going to clean out all the components and you’re going to knock off the carbon. That’s really what we have to do with our soldiers, is take a step back, realize just like every other piece of equipment, their minds, their hearts, their bodies, they get worn down and sometimes we need to take that knee, take the step back, break them down and knock out the carbon.”