Trojan’s Trek 2011- the most successful yet

The trek for 2011 is over except for the follow-up administration.  All in all I would rate it as the most successful yet.  Three weeks prior to commencement, I had names of only four participants and this was of great concern.  However the numbers increased during the last two weeks to total 11 by the time we deployed to the bush.  The reasons why veterans do not volunteer for something like this are many and varied.  In the first place, ex servicemen and women rarely volunteer for anything, it is part of the culture.  However, I suspect the two main reasons are the stigma associated with stress illness together with the difficulty in informing clients of the trek’s existence.

Overcoming the stigma of suffering from mental illness is something which the community face generally, and that will only dissipate with the passing of time.  Certainly the military is aware of this issue. Spreading the word was achieved in the end by enlisting the assistance of past trekkers, all of whom appear to know someone who is doing it tough.  There is no doubt that word of mouth and the reassurance of a mate goes a long way in prompting new trekkers to put up their hands.

My participant limit is 12.  Still 11 permits the group dynamics to operate in an atmosphere which is not inhibited by low numbers nor does it appear as if the facilitators are looking over every shoulder.  Besides, this group was a great mob.  They very quickly relaxed and spoke openly with each other and to the group as a whole. That makes the task of the facilitators easier and progress is fast and positive.

The age range was significant as I included two Vietnam veterans whose names had been put forward and I had the vacancies. I hasten to add that the target group remains contemporary veterans, ie post Vietnam, but I believe if there are vacancies, it is better to fill them with anyone whom we can help.  After all as Dogs says, “we do no harm.”

The youngest was 26 and the oldest 64 and although this may appear to be a disadvantage we have found that it is frequently helpful to have some older/wiser heads in the group.  This certainly applied in 2009 when the older veteran was a great help in breaking down the barriers and has subsequently maintained contact with one of that group as a father figure.  Also in this group were two second time trekkers who by their own admission gained as lot from a second attendance.  They had self nominated presumably realising a further trek was necessary to anchor some of the lesson from their previous experience.
This kind of response is heartening and confirms our belief that Trojan’s Trek is not a silver bullet but is a powerful motivator to effect positive change and as with most therapy, one experience is never enough.

The staff and I believe that the majority of the group returned with a very positive attitude towards changing their lives for the better.

This attitude potentially results in an improved life for partners and families; an aspect which we consider important.  Furthermore, I believe that there would be benefit in capitalising on the results of the trek by seamlessly adding these men and their families to one of the existing counselling services if not clients.

I was fortunate that the same team from 2010 was available.  This included Cogs (the camp commandant) and Shane (the chef), whose selfless efforts in planning, purchasing, cooking and delivering meals to us without a hitch.  It is a relief not have to worry about any of the aspects associated with that complex list of requirements.  All I do is allocate a budget figure and Cogs does the rest.  He and Shane travel to Moolooloo one day early to set up and prepare. They spent the week attending to our eating requirements which included cooking and then delivery to far flung locations and a final acquittal of the budget.  Cogs was allocated a general hand in the person of a past trekker, Townie.  He is familiar with the track system, the operation, the terrain and does not resile from washing up and other domestic chores.  I also contracted Paul Hodge Productions from Brisbane to make a DVD of the trip and its outcomes.  Paul is a veteran himself and told me during the trip that he was also receiving benefit from participation.  We all look forward to the DVDs.  Pioneer Tanks through Tim Harper was kind enough to loan two 4WD vehicles which saved in excess of $2000 in hiring, thanks Tim.

Our departure was red carpet like with the Advertiser on site to preserve the moment. Thanks to those who shared their thoughts and images with the reporters.

In the bush the team was comprised of the Director (me), Dogs, Poxy, AB and the Doc. Dogs was the primary facilitator assisted by Poxy and AB, both civilian experts who offered a different perspective and new subject matter.

The program for the bush period included 18 formal group sessions.  These were delivered at a number of different sites, varying from our over-night camp sites to predetermined locations en-route.

They were well received and are a marked departure from the omnipotent power point presentations.  I was impressed with the ingenuity shown by using the side of a vehicle with butcher’s paper and other simple aids.  The messages were clear and unequivocal.   Humour is always present and many of the boys later said they had not laughed as much for many years.  The Doc attended again, his second trip.  It is comforting to have a Dr on staff although we had two Senior First Aiders with us at all times.

The weather was not as kind as it could have been; one of the nights was wet and windy which is not ideal in swags. The days varied from a calm and sunny 22 degrees to very windy.  On the ridges it was impossible to carry on a normal conversation on those days.  But we have no control over that element and we continued on.  When it was not wet or too windy the nights round the fire were good fun. Lots of well told jokes and light hearted games made the night pass quickly and helped the boys relax.

On Tue we were joined by Ch 10s Brett Clappis and cameraman John from the George Negus show.  The program aired on Monday 3 Oct, was sensitively handled and conveyed the message of our intent.  A big thank goes you to those fellows who bared their soul on national television.
The final night was spent at the shearer’s quarters.  This enabled the participants to fill out their evaluations of the week and for the staff to carry out their own debrief.

The next morning was all go.  Breakfast at 0600 hrs, clean the quarters, showers, pack vehicles, load and get on the road.   We were mobile by 0750hrs although a flat tyre on one of the hire vehicles on the way out added 30 mins to the journey.  We arrived at the RAR Club at 1545 hrs, having cleaned all the vehicles en route.  Peter Caldicott from Channel 7 produced a news item for the evening bulletin.  The partners welcomed us back after which the Director presented monogrammed T shirts to the participants.  The trekkers then relaxed before some hurried off to catch flights home.

Moose Dunlop OAM
10 October 11

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