,

REPORT FROM TROJAN’S TREK SA SEPTEMBER 2017

Distribution:  See below

TROJAN’S TREK SOUTH AUSTRALIA SEPTEMBER 2017

1. Trojan’s Trek in South Australia (SA) was conducted at Moolooloo Station in the Flinders Ranges from 24 to 29 September 2017.This was the ninth male trek conducted at this location and the fourth female trek in SA. The remote location supports one of the key elements of success of the program – a peaceful setting within nature, free from the usual electronic, mental and physical distractions. This significantly increases the impact of the messages delivered. Twenty-three participants attended the trek across both groups. Participant comments and journals from the trek provide an early indication of the significant shifts in thinking that occurred throughout the program.

2. The aim of Trojan’s Trek is to provide a setting and conditions under which participants experience a lasting, positive, shift in personal values and interpersonal relationships.

Objectives
3. The objectives of the trek are to assist the participants, through group and individual challenge, achieve the following:

  • a. an understanding of how thoughts and feelings influence behaviour,
  • b. exposure to various strategies which will bring about positive change,
  • c. individual responses which are effective in achieving goals,
  • d. improving interpersonal relationships, and
  • e. enhance self-esteem.

Validation
4. Four standard psychometric instruments are administered to evaluate the trek outcomes. These are:

a. Life Satisfaction Scale (HILDA) for comparison with Australian normative data,
b. Positive and Negative Interactions,
c. General Perceived Self Efficacy Scale, and
d. DASS 21.

5. All male and female participants were experiencing mental health challenges. Most commonly, this included post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression.

6. Sixteen male participants attended. This included one ambulance officer and one observer/psychologist.Fourteen had been operationally deployed across one or more of: East Timor, Christmas Island, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Cambodia, Bougainville, Somalia and South Vietnam.

7. Seven female participants attended. These included one registered nurse, one fire-fighter, two ex-army, two ex-navy and one ex-air force.One of the females had qualifying service.

Programme and staff
8. The success of the trek is built on the credibility and impact of the messages delivered by facilitators. This is enhanced by interaction with mentors who are past trekkers.By sharing the experience, peer support is established.Succession planning to maintain a balance between experienced facilitators, mentors and mentors ‘in-training’ is recognised and practiced. The trek utilised local and interstate staff to achieve this blend of skills and experience. All staff departed Adelaide a day in advance of the participants.This provided additional opportunities for staff briefing and to consolidate content.

9. Based on total numbers attending (48), an additional general hand was employed at the base camp. This proved to be a satisfactory solution to long hours and high workloads as well as gaining another person who now understands the operation.

10. The female team was located at the Oratunga Creek campsite and the male team moved locations each night. This worked well with the respective teams. The daily programs were planned to remove the need to travel significant distances for delivery of food and staff movements.

Location
11. The trek is supported from a base established at Moolooloo shearers’ quarters which is 32 km north east of Parachilna on the Glass Gorge Road. The station occupies 1400 square kilometres of country which varies in type and relief from east to west. The distance to the area of the trek is approximately 520 km from Adelaide. Travelling these distances is time-consuming and expensive in fuel, but the advantages of having no mobile telephone, television or radio reception more than offsets the disadvantages of travel. A trip of this duration also permits the participants to get to know each other en route. The feedback from the participants on the location is positive.

Medical
12. The nearest fully equipped hospital is at Hawker, approximately 1.5 hours away. First line medical support was provided by a paramedic and a registered nurse, who were based in the male and female teams respectively, and each carried a fully equipped first aid kit. First aid kits were located with each group and a number of the staff were qualified at St John Apply First Aid. The longest exposure to the most serious risk was assessed as traffic accidents during the trip to and from Moolooloo. Apart from a gastrointestinal issue experienced by one participant, no other medical issues arose.

Transport
13. Two buses transported the male and female teams separately to Moolooloo Station. Thirteen 4WD vehicles were used to transport the staff to the location on Saturday prior to the arrival of the trekkers. At the conclusion of the trek, staff and participants returned to Adelaide in these 4WD vehicles.

14. During the trek, the 4WD vehicles were used to travel between locations.  This is in alignment with the program logic which utilises the small group environment of the vehicles to prompt further discussions and reflections on issues as they surface in the sessions. This has been found to be so successful that staff refers to this practice as moving in mobile consulting rooms. It also affords the chance to mix different individuals and staff with an aim to maximize exposure to others’ views. This has proved to be beneficial.

Hire Vehicle Costs
15. Hire vehicle costs for 2017 were higher than normal. This was due to:

a) a larger number of in-training mentors on staff, and
b) two vehicles which are normally loaned at no cost were unavailable.

Weather
16. The weather was optimal for trek delivery with no temperature extremes. The Flinders Ranges was experiencing a period without recent rain, so the creek beds were dry and the roads and tracks were relatively stable. This increased the ease of 4WD travel between locations.

Communications
17. Mobile telephone coverage in the area is patchy with some service at Parachilna and Blinman. Fixed-line communications were available through a link established at the Shearer’s Quarters.  A satellite telephone was available in the bush if an emergency arose. It was not used.
18. Radio: While in the bush, UHF CB hand-held and vehicle-mounted radios were used for communications on simplex. Duplex on Channel 3 is available in the area for contact at greater distances by UHF.


Program Delivery
19. The program is reviewed regularly to ensure relevant content. The messages conveyed during the trek are related to relationships and understanding cognitive strategies for behaviour management. A selection of topics including, How the Brain Works, Leaving a Legacy, Victim to Warrior were delivered. The style and method of delivery, combined with the surroundings, make the messages much more powerful. This is further enhanced by mentors sharing their personal experiences. The female team delivered additional topics which have been developed over time and found to be effective. The journals provide useful insight into the power of the program and how the content is being understood by participants. The simple benefit gained from reconnecting with other veterans cannot be overstated. This is in accordance with the philosophy of the trek; veterans helping veterans supported by credible messages which are based on first-hand experience.

20. New mentors are given the opportunity to continue to develop their skills assisted by skilled and experienced facilitators and mentors. This is essential for staff succession planning and was enhanced this year by the production of lesson plans to assist with staff development.

21. The majority of staff are past participants who found the trek so powerful they decided to take the opportunity to assist in program delivery. Those who have accepted this responsibility describe their continuing gains from attendance by assisting in the transformation of the lives of others.

22. The tenor of the week is relaxed yet highly focused on outcomes. This comes as a surprise to most of the participants whose expectations are for a course run along military lines. This is the antithesis of the program.

23. The inclusion of civilian staff provides a balance and different skill-sets to the ex-military presence. Sessions linked to this expertise provide advice and encouragement in a form which is perceived differently to that presented by the veterans.

Journals


24. The use of a period set aside daily to complete individual journals has proved to be an important element for participants. The journals are used to record personal reflections on the various lessons of the day and the daily experience of the trek. This practice provides an opportunity to review and anchor the day’s lessons. Past trekkers have commented on the usefulness of this record of reflections as a reminder of the strategies and tools to use after the trek. With consent, the journals are used to provide qualitative data to supplement the quantitative psychometric evaluation of the program.

Partners
25. A Partner’s Handbook booklet is posted to each partner during the trek. It is designed to deliver three key outcomes;

  • to provide information regarding the trek and its intent,
  • to provide you with some of the ideas and tools that your partner will be exposed to, and
  • to prepare you for what you may experience once your partner comes home

Staff Debrief
26. A staff debrief was conducted at the conclusion of the trek to capture immediate feedback.

Program Viability
27. To ensure that the program remains viable and continues to provide support to veterans it is necessary to:

  • continue to widely advertise the program, targeting those who need our support,
  • focus on those establishments which are central to the clinical treatment,
  • convince the Department of Veterans’ Affairs of the benefits offered, and
  • ensure funding is available to offer the program at no cost to participants.

Before each trek, a media release is sent out. This year the release was distributed to a list of contacts supplied by RSL Care. No contact was made by media outlets.

28. The following were invited to attend:

a. President of the SA RSL;  Bronson Horan,
b. Commissioner for Mental Health; Chris Burns, and
c. CEO Veterans SA;  Rob Manton

None were able to attend.  The travel time by road required for visitors to attend the trek is a challenge.  Past visitors have reported they gained an enhanced understanding of the power of the program and the significant benefits gained by participants.

29. Sustainability of funding for the SA trek requires ongoing attention, as unlike the QLD trek which has ongoing funding from RSL QLD and Bolton Clarke, SA is dependent on a number of irregular sources.  Each October the foundation conducts a major fundraising activity with the conduct of the Veterans’ Support Walk. These funds are complemented by a number of other organisations, corporations, and individual donors. This year a $10,000 grant was received from RSL Care SA, and a $10,000 donation was received from a donor. Additional support has been received by SA Health and Veterans SA along with many others. This support is much appreciated and vital for our ability to conduct the treks.

Annual Trek Delivery
30. In 2017 an additional female trek was conducted in QLD in August.  This resulted in difficulty in identifying sufficient female trekkers for the SA trek to make the experience viable. The foundation will continue to monitor demand to ensure economic use of resources.

31. Participant numbers will dictate the number of future treks offered. This will be assessed and adjusted as needed. The existence and efficacy of the trek anecdotally appears to be well known and understood among ex-service organisations (ESOs).  However, minimum participant numbers are required for group dynamics and to establish the benefits of peer-to-peer support. To ensure participant numbers are met, the foundation will continue to promote the trek through ESO networks, health providers and our best referral mechanism – word of mouth from past participants.

Conclusion

32. The isolation and serenity provided by the bush and the live-in nature of the trek are powerful catalysts in conveying content with impact. The disarming honesty of trek staff creates an environment which facilitates honesty and openness from participants. This role-modelling from trek staff, coupled with the credibility of being surrounded by others with similar lived experience, allows participants to talk openly about content they have often never shared. A paradigm shift occurs over the duration of the trek. First, participants are able to recognise and acknowledge past thoughts and behaviours and how they have contributed to their present situation. They then develop a clear sense of hope and self-efficacy, as the realisation that other ways of coping are possible and are achievable as evidenced by past trekkers.

33. Sustained by the opinion of strong anecdotal evidence and the qualitative feedback from the journals, the trek achieved the set objectives. This was achieved through strong trek leadership supported by the staff. The trek is intended as a circuit-breaker. Following the trek participants describe having a new understanding of their choices in thinking and behaviour; a shift in their world view.

34. As they return to their daily routines, the challenge is to practice and consolidate the strategies they have learned within their existing support structures and with the additional layer of support from past trekkers. Also each trekker is provided with a Trek Bible which contains all of the sessions which were covered during their time on the trek.  Feedback is positive

35. The follow-up support among trekkers is immediately evident on the closed pages of the treks social media accounts. This aspect of the experience is important if the impact of the trek is to be maximized. It would also be beneficial if an organization with greater resources could become actively involved in follow-up.

36. The participants and staff believe that there is an ongoing role for programs of this nature for veterans. The principles may also be applied to other vocations. The trek is unique, and may not suit every veteran but it is a valuable and effective adjunct to other treatment. The efficacy of peer to peer programs is now well established in academic literature.

37. Further information about the Foundation and trek is available on the web site at trojanstrek.com

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *