JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
As she stood in front of her graduating peers with red, tear-drenched eyes holding her certificate, she shared a moment that forever changed her life.
“My mother passed away in January 2017,” said Sgt. 1st Class Iris Autrey, as she paused to gather her thoughts. “I never got the chance to say goodbye or tell her how much I loved her.
“Although, I had prior resiliency training through the Army, it still didn’t give me the relief that I needed. As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, my pain began to show more and more,” Autrey said. “Coming to this course has helped me overcome a lot of the pain that I felt through the exercises we conducted in class.”
Autrey and more than 25 other service members graduated from the weeklong Soldier 360 Resiliency Leaders Course held recently at the Vogel Resiliency Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
At the end of each course, the 360 Resiliency instructors host a graduation for the students. Each graduate has an opportunity to discuss what the course helped them realized about themselves after receiving their individual certificates.
“As time went on, I contemplated the loss of my mother. Losing her so unexpectedly brought up a lot of feelings that I thought I had dealt with previously,” said the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native. “I’m so honored that I had this opportunity.”
The course is aimed at improving a leader’s wellness, not only the physical and mental aspects, but the spiritual aspect as well.
“The course covers the physical, the mental, and the spiritual aspect of a person to ensure he or she is a well-rounded leader, hence, the name of the course –360 Leadership; it covers everything, a real full-spectrum course and teaches individuals how to deal with different aspects of life,” said Autrey, who is an Army combat medic specialist.
“The training that we went through expands the knowledge and the skills that we learn in other military courses and gives us the tools that can be considered lifelong learning skills.”
“It’s a leadership course focused on equipping non-commissioned officers with more ‘tools’ to help them manage the stresses of everyday life or issues that their Soldiers may be facing,” said Dr. Mary Lopez, the Soldier’s 360 Leadership Course manager. “We take a full 360 approach to a leader, which encompasses mental, physical and spiritual aspects of a leader’s well-being.”
Autrey added, “It’s like the famous quote: ‘If you give a man a fish, you feed him for the day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.’ The program gives us those tools to learn how to ‘fish’ in order to sustain us for a lifetime.”
Some of the ‘tools’ that were discussed during the course are: stress management techniques, sleep management, journaling, diet, pain management, nutritional fitness, couples and parent-child communication, leadership, suicide prevention and physical conditioning.
Like many military courses, every morning began with physical training. But unlike other courses, this course was a break from the monotony of Army Physical Training, Autrey said.
“On the first day of class before we did any yoga, I thought to myself: ‘We are just going to be in the room learning a bunch of deep breathing exercises.’ But I quickly realized, yoga wasn’t as easy as I originally thought. I got a great work out, and it was actually challenging to conduct the different stretches. It really worked on my core muscle endurance while improving my flexibility. I really enjoyed doing yoga every morning.”
Even her husband, Antonio Autrey, joined her for the course.
“The class was amazing in helping me with my communication skills with my husband; I really enjoyed this course because it allowed me to bring my husband along for the last two days,” Autrey said. “Although we’ve been married for 17 years, the exercises helped us to get reacquainted with one another on a deeper level, which is weird because we’ve been married for so long.”
One of the exercises that Autrey and her husband conducted was the "three-by-three."
Autrey described how the three-by-three is conducted:
“The three-by-three is an exercise where you sit across from your spouse, knee-to-knee and hand-in-hand, and talk about anything that you want to get off your chest for three minutes each while looking in each other’s eyes; however, this exercise is meant to work on your communication skills through active listening. It’s not a bashing or a rebuttal session used to put your spouse down but rather to build each other up. You can talk about whatever is on your mind while being thoughtful of the other spouse’s feelings.’”
Autrey said she thought three minutes was too long for the exercises, but, in the end, she realized it was time well-spent.
After 20 years of military service, Autrey said she feels confident in not only her ability to help others that may be going through hardships but to help herself with the new resiliency techniques she learned in the course.
And, now that the course has ended and she is returning to her unit, Autry said she feels better as an individual and as a leader.
“I would recommend this course to everyone because it’s so beneficial not only to help give you new ‘tools’ but to make you a better, more well-rounded leader,” Autrey said.