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REPORT: TROJAN’S TREK SOUTH AUSTRALIA SEPTEMBER 2019

Patron: His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Li AC Governor of South Australia

Distribution:  See below 

REPORT:  TROJAN’S TREK SOUTH AUSTRALIA SEPTEMBER 2019 

Introduction

  1. Trojan’s Trek in South Australia (SA) was conducted at Moolooloo Station in the North Flinders Ranges from 15 to 20 September 2019. This was the eleventh year of treks conducted in SA.  The remote location supports one of the key elements of success of the program; a peaceful setting in an ancient land, free from electronic, mental and physical distractions. This significantly increases the impact of the messages delivered.  Fifteen males, of whom eight came from SA, indicated they would attend however illness and a panic attack left 13 participants to make the journey.  Participant comments and journals from the trek provide an early indication of significant positive shifts in thinking which occurred as a result of the program.

Aim

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

Objectives

  1. 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) improve interpersonal relationships, and
    e) enhance self-esteem.

Validation

  1. Four standard psychometric instruments are administered to quantitatively 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.
  1. Qualitative evaluations are also measured through the entries in daily journals which are completed by the participants.
  1. Since commencement in 2009 each trek has been independently evaluated and from 2012 has been undertaken by Flinders University staff. This trek will follow the evaluation process.

Participants and Staff

  1. Of the thirteen participants, one was an ex NSW police officer, one a SA paramedic, two ex RAN, 6 ex-Army and 3 ex RAAF.   Four had been operationally deployed across one or more theatres.   The average age of the group was 55, outside the target age which aims at younger veterans.
  2. 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 campfire 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 for Moolooloo a day in advance of the participants. This provided additional opportunities for staff briefing and to consolidate content.  Two participants from trek 2018 were utilised as mentors. The total number attending was 34.  Interstate staff and trekkers were accommodated at Keswick Barracks.  This location is economical and safe for vehicle parking.
  3. Staff                                                                                                                            Participants
                                             

This trek was the last for Dogs Kearney OAM who has been involved since the Trek’s inception in 2009.  A presentation to him was done on the last night of the trek.

Assistance

10. TAFE SA. During this trek four students from TAFE SA attended with the task of producing vision and sound which will be utilised to produce new DVDs for the Foundation.  They used their own vehicle and displayed sensitivity which enabled them to fit into the trek group easily.  At no time were they overtly noticeable and managed to capture some excellent comments and vision which will be used appropriately.

11. Supacat Staff. Supacat is an international company that provides support to the foundation.  This year the Managing Director (MD) offered two of his staff as general hands.  Both contributed at the base and in the bush. No doubt they will report their experience to the MD which will enhance the relationship.

Location

12. The trek is supported by a base established at the shearers’ quarters on Moolooloo which is 27 km northeast 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 travel and location is positive.

 Medical Risks

13. The nearest fully equipped hospital is at Hawker, approximately 1.5 hours away. A satellite phone was on hand if the RFDS or medical advice was required.  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.  An AED which was purchased as the result of a successful grant application added to the medical capability.  In terms of risk management, 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. Six hire 4WD, two Pioneer Tank loaned vehicles and three personal 4WD were utilised to transport the staff to Moolooloo on Saturday. A self-drive hire-bus driven by two volunteers transported the 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 refers 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 apart from a 4 degree morning. The North Flinders Ranges was experiencing a long 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. Telephone. Mobile telephone coverage in the area is patchy or non-existent with the nearest service at Parachilna and Blinman. Fixed-line communications were available through a link established at the shearers’ 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 was available in the area for contact at greater distances by UHF.

Program

19. The program is reviewed regularly to ensure relevant content. Enclosure 1 indicates the participant responses.  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, Communications etc were 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 its 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. Two new staff were given the opportunity to continue to develop their skills assisted by experienced facilitators. This is essential for staff succession planning.

21. All bar two of the facilitators are selected from past participants.  These are normally 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.All bar two of the facilitators are selected from past participants. These are normally 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.

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 that 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.

25. 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

26. A Partner’s Handbook was posted to each partner during the trek. It is designed to deliver three key outcomes;
a) provide information regarding the trek and its intent,
b) provide the partners with some of the ideas and tools that the trekkers will be exposed to, and
c) encourage support for what may be new ideas and behaviours. 

Staff Debrief

27. A staff debrief was conducted at the conclusion of the trek to capture immediate feedback and comment. The comments will be reviewed by the Operations Director.

Program Viability

28. The Trojan’s Trek program is demand-driven; that is, individuals approach the points of contact for each trek indicating a will to attend. This has worked well to date, particularly in SA where male numbers remain 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:
a) continue to advertise the program, targeting those who need our support,
b) focus on those establishments which are central to the clinical treatment,
c) convince the Department of Veterans’ Affairs of the benefits offered, and
d) ensure funding is available to offer the program at no cost to participants.

Visitors and Media

29. Before each trek, a media release is distributed. This year the release was distributed through RSL Care SA. As a result, the Messenger Newspaper offered to publish short stories submitted by participants.  To date, only one has done that.

30. No visitors, apart from TAFE and Supacat attended the trek. The travelling 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.  Visitors will continue to be invited.

Costs

31. This year judicious shopping and successful donation seeking reduced costs. For example, the average single meal cost was reduced to $3.01.  The catering staff is to be congratulated.

Other savings were achieved as follows:                                    Saving

  1. vehicle hire costs, less 50% granted by the hire coy,    $ 3418
  2. donated processed meats, and                                          $ 210
  3. donated 50 dozen eggs                                                        $ 300

Although not finalised at the time of writing, the trek will cost approximately $32K.

Viability

32. Sustainability of funding for the SA trek requires continual monitoring as SA funds are dependent on a number of irregular sources. Each October the Foundation raises funds through a major fundraising activity organized by Adelaide Exercise Physiology; the Veterans’ Support Walk. These funds are complemented by a number of other organizations, corporations, and individual donors. This year significant funding was received from Veterans SA, Supacat and a private donor.  A number of smaller donors also contribute and collectively this is significant. This support is much appreciated and vital for our ability to continue to conduct the treks.

Annual Trek Delivery

  1. 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

  1. The isolation and serenity provided by the bush and the live-in nature of the trek are powerful catalysts in conveying the content with impact. The disarming nature of trek staff creates an environment that facilitates honesty and openness from participants. This, in turn, aids recovery.
  2. 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 achievable as evidenced by past trekkers.
  3. 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 of the philosophy which is supported by the staff. The experience 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.
  4. As trekkers return to their daily routines, the challenge for them is to practice and consolidate the strategies learned within their existing support structures with the additional layer of support from past trekkers. They are provided with a “Trek Bible” which contains a brief on all the sessions covered during their time on the trek.  Feedback is positive.
  5. The follow-up support among trekkers is immediately evident by the setting up of closed pages of the trek’s social media accounts. This aspect of the experience is important if the impact of the trek is to be maximized.
  6. 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 treatments.  The efficacy of peer to peer programs is now well established in academic literature.
  7. Further information about the Foundation and trek is available on the web site at www.trojanstrek.com

Operations Director
Trojan’s Trek Foundation
7 October 2019

Distribution:
Minister for Veterans’ SA
Member for Mayo
Secretary RARC Ted Chitham MC
Supacat MD
TT Board Members 8
President RAR Assoc SA
CEO RSL Care
Staff

Enclosure 1. Participant Evaluation Combined

 

 

 

 

 

 

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