From Spouse to Mentor through a Virtual Environment at Fort Bliss

The first Spouse Leadership Development Course, Distance Learning (SLDC-DL), launched May 11-19, with 41 spouses in attendance.

Sgt. Maj. Matildo Coppi and his team ensured the SLDC-DL went live for the spouses after going through a pilot phase during the summer of 2019.

“A dedicated team of professionals developed this course,” Coppi said.
“Furthermore, it is delivered by a superb facilitator- Ms. Michelle Mebane.”

The SLDC program is run by the SLDC Director Michelle Mebane, who helps the spouses sharpen their skills, support readiness, and boost morale.

“Ms. Mebane’s depth of knowledge, professionalism, and energetic personality make this course dynamic,” Coppi said.

The course teaches senior enlisted spouses the importance of team building, leadership, readiness support, and effective communication to complement their service member in their new role as a sergeant major.

“The SLDC-DL training objectives align with the in-person, resident SLDC,” Coppi said. “Although the delivery mode is different, the focus is to immerse each senior spouse into the various training topics to meet the learning outcome.”

Mebane explains how engaged and committed the SLDC-DL spouses were during the seven-day course.

“Dedication is one of the words spouses learn the meaning of in this course,” Mebane said. “Having the opportunity to watch 41 dedicated spouses for the last seven nights fills my heart with joy.”

Distance learning scared some spouses at first, but they quickly overcame their fear of technology and participated in the course.

Mebane added, “distance learning is only effective if you invest your time into the course. These spouses are completely dedicated to learning their new roles as advisors/mentors when they move into their next position, supporting their service member.”

SLDC-DL participant Caroline Boudreau appreciated the option for spouses to share their experiences, ask questions and have real conversations with their facilitators through the chat function on Microsoft Teams.

“I think it’s important to have the chatbox to give real-time feedback to the lecturer, so they don’t feel like they’re teaching to an empty room,” Boudreau said.

Boudreau referred to this feature as virtual eye contact.

Other participants of the latest course also found it exciting to be a part of the groundbreaking experience.

“These are strange and trying times for everyone, and to be able to maintain some sense of normalcy and to continue being able to learn has been comforting,” Tabitha Tahbo said.

She added, “this class has helped to clearly define my role and responsibilities as a support person for my Soldier and the families in our organization.”

The subject matter experts’ delivery and execution made the class as real as possible in the virtual environment.

“The ‘virtually’ indispensable information provided, lessons learned and spouses met during classes, is beyond extraordinary,” SLDC-DL participant Jennifer Lowrance exclaimed. She added, “I could not thank Ms. Mebane and the others [facilitators] involved enough for this phenomenal experience.”

Participants of the Spouse Leadership Development Course through Distance Learning receive a brief from Zenon Molina from Army Community Services on the roles within the Army’s Casualty Response Team (CARE Team), May 12. | Picture provided by the NCOLCoE Commandant, Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Sellers.

SLDC-DL provides an everlasting impact on the spouses.

“I would highly recommend the course to other spouses,” Tahbo said. “The wealth of knowledge that I gained will help me to become a better advisor, and help support the junior spouses and families in our organization, as well as my Soldier.”

Many of the participants preferred a face to face environment, but they all appreciated the opportunity to glean from their new-found knowledge.

“Verbal communication is better than nothing,” Boudreau said. “Now, I feel more prepared to be a mentor for newer spouses because of this class.”

The SLDC-DL provides a learning environment for all spouses with Soldiers attending the Sergeants Major Academy.

“It provides us the capability to reach spouses who were not able to PCS here with their students, or could not leave their home for other reasons to attend in person,” Sgt. Maj. James Halchishick, the director of the Sergeants Major Academy, said.

The DL course also increases the number of seats available for participants.

“It also increases capacity,” he said. “We enrolled 48 spouses in the current course [41 attended]. That is twice the normal class size.”

The online collaborative environment provides all the participants will the right tools to be successful senior spouse mentors.

“This course will educate spouses on the myriad of Army Programs and other resources available to Soldiers and Families,” Halchishick said. “SLDC-DL has made the entire world our classroom.”

The next SLDC-DL is scheduled from Tuesday, May 26 to Wednesday, June 3, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Contact the SLDC director Michelle Mebane at to register.

Author: Danielle ODonnell  – The NCO Leadership Center of Excellence