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REPORT FROM TROJAN’S TREK SA SEPTEMBER 2018

Distribution:  See below

Introduction

  • Trojan’s Trek in South Australia (SA) was conducted at Moolooloo Station in the North Flinders Ranges from 23 to 28 September 2018. This was the tenth male trek conducted and the first since 2014 which did not include the concurrent running of a female trek. This was due to only 4 women nominating to attend a trek in SA.  The women who nominated were catered for by the QLD trek which was conducted one month earlier.  The remote location supports one of the key elements of success of the program; a peaceful setting within a natural setting, free from electronic, mental and physical distractions. This significantly increases the impact of the messages delivered. Fifteen males, of whom eight came from SA, attended the trek. Participant comments and journals from the trek provide an early indication of the significant shifts in thinking which occurred as a result of the program.

Aims
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 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. Qualitative evaluations are also measured through the daily journals which are completed by the participants.

6. This year the trek was sponsored by the Adelaide and SA Country Primary Health Network (PHN). PHN is a first time supporter and is a Federal Government funded organisation with the objective to achieve better health services delivery. As part of the contract with PHN, the standard evaluation frequency was extended to included two additional evaluation periods to accommodate the new requirements.

7. Each trek since commencement in 2009 has been independently evaluated. Since 2012 this has been undertaken by Flinders University. This year the evaluation period will be extended to include a 6 month and 12 month period to meet the PHN requirements.  Other persons close to the trekkers will also be asked for comment with respect to changed behavior or interpersonal gains.

Participants and staff
8. Of the fifteen participants, one was an ex NSW police officer, one was ex-RAAF and two were ex-RAN. Eleven had been operationally deployed across one or more theatres.

9. The success of the trek is built on the credibility and impact of the messages delivered by facilitators. During this trek six experienced facilitators were employed to deliver the fourteen formal sessions. When not engaged in delivery, the staff were utilised as mentors to the participants around the camp fire and during 4WD vehicle movement. This interaction of staff with small groups of participants assists in building trust and reinforcing messages. The trek utilised local and interstate staff to achieve a 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.

10. Based on total numbers attending (26), the support staff numbers were reduced. This applied particularly in the role of base staff where only three were required. This proved to be satisfactory and avoided the overheads associated with additional staff.

 

 

11. Staff                                                                                                                                                                                                                Participants: Blue (SA based)

Location
12. The trek is supported from a base established at the shearers’ quarters on Moolooloo which is 27 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 in 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 travel and location is positive.

Medical
13. The nearest fully equipped hospital is at Hawker, approximately 1.5 hours away. First line medical support was provided by a paramedic based with the team. First aid kits were also available and a number of the staff were qualified 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. No medical issues arose

Transport
14. Seven hire 4WD, two Pioneer Tank loaned vehicles and one personal 4WD were utilised to transport the staff to Moolooloo on Saturday. A self-drive hire-bus driven by two volunteers transported the male team to Moolooloo Station on Sunday.  At the conclusion of the trek, staff and participants returned to Adelaide in the 4WD vehicles.

15. 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 following the sessions. This has been found to be so successful that staff refer to this practice as 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; many of the trekkers have remarked on the advantages of spending time in the company of a few individuals as opposed to a larger group.

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 the nearest 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 required.

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
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 behavior management. A selection of topics including How the Brain Works, Leaving a Legacy, Victim to Warrior etc. was delivered. The style and method of delivery, combined with the surroundings, make the messages much more powerful. This is further enhanced by the group sharing their personal experiences. The daily journals also 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 staff are given the opportunity to continue to develop their skills assisted by skilled and experienced facilitators. This is essential for staff succession planning and was enhanced this year by staff training held in Adelaide In February.

21. Most of the facilitators are selected from past participants. These normally are individuals 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 staff other than ex-military provides a balance and different skill-sets. 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 is posted to each partner during the trek. It is designed to deliver three key outcomes;
• provide information regarding the trek and its intent,
• provide the partners with some of the ideas and tools that the trekkers will be exposed to, and
• encourage support for what may be new ideas and behaviours.

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

Program Viability
27. The Trojan’s Trek program is demand driven; that is, individuals approach the points of contact in each state indicating a will to attend. This has worked well to date, particularly in SA where male numbers remain very high.  The best disciples of the program have been past trekkers who are the source of at least 60% of attendees. However, to ensure that the program remains viable and continues to provide support to veterans it is necessary to:

  • continue to 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.

Visitors and media
28. Before each trek, a media release is distributed. This year the release was distributed through a contact nominated by PHN.

29. HE the Governor of SA who is the Patron and the CEO of Veterans SA; Rob Manton were invited to attend but declined owing to previous commitments. 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.

Viability
30. 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
31. Participant numbers will dictate the number and location 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 organizations (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 in turn aids recovery.

33. The role-modeling exhibited by the 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. Commonly, a paradigm shift occurs over the duration of the trek. Participants are able to recognize and acknowledge past thoughts and behaviors and how they have contributed to their present situation. They then develop a clear sense of hope and self-efficacy, as the realization that other ways of coping are possible and are achievable as evidenced by past trekkers.

34. Sustained by the opinion of strong anecdotal evidence and the qualitative feedback from the journals, the trek achieved the objectives. This was gained through the pursuit the strong trek philosophy 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 behavior; a shift in their world view.

35. As trekkers return to their daily routines, the challenge for them is to practice and consolidate the strategies learned within their existing support structures and with the additional layer of support from past trekkers. They are provided with a Trek Bible which contains a brief on all of the sessions which were covered during their time on the trek. Feedback is positive.

36. 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.

37. 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.

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

 

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The Trojan’s Trek Foundation is pleased to announce…

His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AC Governor of South Australia has agreed to be the Patron of the Foundation for the term of his office.

This represents a milestone in the short history of the organisation and we look forward to showing His Excellency the program next year on Moolooloo.

 

 

 

Moose Dunlop OAM
Chairman
October 16, 2017.