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OBSERVATIONS OF A FIRST TIMER ON TROJAN’S TREK

INTRODUCTION

At my invitation, the following article is written by Eric Ford to record his feelings and observations as a first-time attendee on a trek. Eric is taking over the role of Operations Director SA from me. I will remain as the Operations Director for the Foundation. This trek had a slightly different mix of attenders in that first responders, particularly firefighters, were encouraged to take part.  This gesture was in response to the dreadful fires over the summer period in SA. Six firefighters and one police officer were in the group of 12. All were from SA.

OBSERVATIONS OF A FIRST TIMER ON TROJAN’S TREK

As a mental health nurse who had spent 12 years working in Ward 17 at the Repat and then at the Jamie Larcombe Centre, I have known of Trojan’s Trek for some years. I had also worked with Moose back in the 80s at the Reserve Command and Staff College at Hamstead Barracks and had been there when Dogs Kearney was the RSM. They are both essential elements of the trek.

When I retired, I contacted Moose to see if someone with my experience could be of use to the trek. He seemed to think so! So, having worked with Moose in the military, I felt ready to take part.

The trek is run at Moolooloo Station in the North Flinders Ranges of SA. It is a non-clinical adjunct to assist veterans and first responders with issues related to post-traumatic stress illness. These issues range from depression, anxiety, anger, drugs, and alcohol overuse, all of which inhibit the trekkers’ ability to function in his or her “normal” life.

The trek is a six-day bush experience with mentors and facilitators who have been trekkers themselves. As Moose would say they have walked the walk and understand the frustrations being experienced.

On arrival on day one, it was patently obvious that this group had problems. There was no eye contact and I sensed that they shared some common problems as they each introduced themselves. This was difficult for some as it was inevitable that the story of why they had joined the trek would resurface emotional responses.

Three nights in swags around a campfire would change that. Each day was filled with the delivery of sessions on subjects that inevitably struck a chord with the group. The trekkers spent time travelling in 4WD from place to place, talking, and sharing experiences and feelings with the three other passengers which included a staff member.  These periods permitted honest and frank discussion with the mentors and facilitators in the vehicle, and I suspect some had never told their story previously.

The evenings around the campfire also promoted the continuation of the frank non-judgemental sharing. Games were played in the evenings which made trekkers feel part of the group. By day three everyone appeared to be comfortable and open to the ideas and concepts put forward during the daily sessions. Each day was a cathartic experience as we moved from place to place in that beautiful ancient land. By week’s end, there was eye contact all round.

As a first-timer I was impressed with the attitude of the facilitators and mentors, knowing that they had been trekkers themselves. It was obvious that the trekkers gained from the experience with a few asking if they could come back as mentors. Does it work, this quote tells it all,

“I feel like I am about to cry but not for the usual reasons like I used to but because for the first time in as long as I can remember I am so happy so calm and so peaceful and I truly believe I have been given the tools I need to continue this journey of life outside of Trojan’s Trek.”

Certainly, I will be back, I regret that I did not put up my hand much earlier.

Eric Ford

Operations Director SA

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Feedback from Trojan’s Trek, 2014.

The following qualitative comments are taken at random from participants journals and correspondence. Thanks to everyone for allowing us to post these.

Trojan’s Trek was up there with one of the most, if not the most enlightening experience I have had as a Vietnam veteran trying to come home since I returned from Vietnam over 40 years ago. ….” Moose, I say you can teach some old dogs new tricks”  Honk honk!! 2014 trekker

“It was our absolute pleasure to lend you and the Trek our xxxxxxxxx (the best Daddy & Husband in the whole wide world) although we did miss him very much we knew he would be nothing short of amazing!! He was chuffed to be asked to go on the Trek as staff this year and had no hesitation at all accepting the offer as he and I both know if it wasn’t for TT we wouldn’t be the happiest little family that we are today. So THANK YOU to you and Moose for giving xxxxxxxxx the opportunity to ever go on the Trek in the first place, to gain the tools and change his mindset to become one of the most amazing and positive people I know – partner of 2014 participant.

When I sit back and think poor me, I know now to stop and engage some common sense, I am not alone! Being in this environment has taught me humility and respect.

Wow! Where to start? I suppose the beginning but in the journey, where is the beginning? I am surprised just how quickly and unplanned the panic sets in. I was apprehensive about doing a journal but I think, albeit slowly I am finding the process helpful.

I would seriously consider coming back as a mentor as well as trying to influence some digger mates to consider coming on 2014. I find just being in the middle of the wilderness with like-minded blokes to be very grounding, peaceful relaxing.

Yesterday here was only the first day and already I feel like I have known some of the blokes here for a while.

Being here is really reinforcing where I am at, where I want to be and who I want to be. I sincerely hope to one day spend my time being a part of this and sharing my knowledge …It makes me fell alive again.

I have gotten a lot out of this journey, met some amazing blokes who I will be mates with for life. Before the trek I could not even sleep, just toss and turn with thoughts what have I gotten into, how did my life get so f…d up. Should I just bail and go the lone wolf and stop inflicting my family with this CURSE.

I was told the drive was 3 hours by Dave which probably helped me get there. So it was six but what the f..k you’re here anyway go for the ride, that’s three hours less counselling.

I was made feel at home, I was not judged(?) The first day’s talks were inspirational. Poxy got my head going, poke here poke there, amazing shit activated previous knowledge, synapses are firing

I can help others by my example just by turning up, that is the start of a new improved life. I will now be more interested in my family instead of interesting. Got to open up to Dogs a little more about relationships with family and girlfriend.

It was really good having Craig and Mick on the trek because they really understand as they have been there as well.

“A penny for our thoughts” and I got quite choked up because I was upset that the time was coming when I was going to have to say goodbye to these amazing blokes.

They have been so supportive and actually understand what I am going through I can actually talk to blokes who I can open up to and trust, this stuff is just priceless.

I think it has already made such a big impact on my life and I’m so grateful to be able to call every one of these blokes my mate, both trekkers and staff

I feel like I belong, like somehow I am meant to be here, this is my moment, my time. My choice to fix me. Being on this program and surrounded by others who are in similar boot, I hope to gain the tools or at least begin to.

If I wasn’t here, I know I would not live to see Xmas.

These blokes call themselves farmers, over the past 3 days they have only planted the seeds but the fu…rs have started to germinate.

..it’s all those jars filled with pent-up emotions/feelings/experiences have all been smashed …it is a relief. I told the boys my story. The support feedback I’ve received has been incredible. I was finally free of my demons?

Then a mate from the army said “hay have you seen Trojans Trek, you’re a vet you should go”, my reply was “nah mate I have no issues”. I asked him when it was that was October 2011, and something must have been saying do it as I filled out a leave application for September 2012. I found myself as the time was getting closer becoming more and more excited. I am happy to say that I don’t think I am the same person anymore.

Recently my wife was diagnosed with Bowel cancer, and during the initial days when clouds formed, I found myself calm. For the last 7 weeks now we have faced this new challenge with drive and positivity that I don’t think I would have had if I had not gone through the Trojans program.

Talked at length with Andrew about my time in Somalia and found myself talking about stuff that I usually find uncomfortable. I am finding answers to why I think I am what I am. Dogs makes a lot of sense and I am mainly here because I see myself failing as a father at home.

Webster’s defines self-realisation as:“The fulfilment by oneself of the possibilities of one’s character or personality.”

“The above I believe encapsulates the overall intent of Trojans Trek (TT). As a participant I eventually came to the conclusion that I needed to be at one with myself in order to commence addressing my problems. As a result of my service I had indeed slowly adopted a victim mentality, and was so wrapped up within my own self doubt, pity, fear and anger that I had effectively shut myself off from most around me. I was well aware that I had issues and problems that needed addressing, but now with hindsight I was waiting for help.

TT made me realise that the person who could provide me with the most help was myself. Assistance and support was (and still is) available, but no progress would be made until I came to the realisation that I firstly needed to understand why I feel like I do, and that the selfish methods I was utilising to deal with those feelings were not in my or my families best interests both from a physical and psychological perspective. I felt alone amongst those who love and support me. This situation was ludicrous.

I am of the opinion that the remote location and the fact that all involved were returned servicemen contributed significantly to the effectiveness of TT. I felt that I could talk to anyone around me without being judged, pitied or provided no more than ‘lip service’. I understand now how ridiculous it was that I felt I could not do this with those at home who love and support me, but the week away with veterans in the same situation has provided me with that insight. It also allowed me to ‘dry out’ which in turn provided me with the clear head required to rationally address my thoughts and feelings. The calm surroundings far away and totally removed from the pressures that accompany everyday life assisted in this process immensely.

The TT program is in my opinion a very effective tool in shifting perspective and allowing returned servicemen to ‘re-boot’ their head and commence the path to becoming well again. I am now of the opinion that closed room counselling sessions are nowhere near as effective as the approach adopted by those involved in TT. For that they are to be congratulated. As a result of my experience I fully intend to become involved in any future TT as I feel that I would gain great satisfaction from assisting those who are travelling the same path that I am, as well as providing me with a reminder that my past lifestyle and attitude is no more than self destructing.

…..I also wanted to say thank you again for the week and all the mentoring and advice you gave me. Matt and I sat down over the weekend and talked at length about the trek and we both came to the conclusion that we had both learnt so much and I know now that am in a better place and it will keep on improving. My parents spent the weekend with us and I took on board everything you said about my relationship with my dad. I showed him the nail trick and listen to all his stories about his D Coy 4RAR reunion. I was just happy to have him and mum down here. When they left on Monday I put my arms around him, gave him a big hug and told him I loved him. Something I have never ever done, He was a bit taken back but I know we both aren’t use to it. Anyway thanks again, you were a real inspiration and I know a lot of other younger blokes would get so much out of the experience of the last week.

If the world had more men like those I listened to this week, it would be vastly different. Each man I have listened to has got great strength not only in their minds, but in what they say. This trek for me wasn’t about finding out what my problem is! It’s about finding out some ways to deal with it. The men on the course have been legends. With some it’s been evident from the first time I met them, others it’s taken me ‘til now to see. Time with everyone has helped me to understand a legend isn’t something in a book or a movie, it’s us. This is one experience I will never forget and will pass on to those I know. Life is too short to be a grumpy, uninteresting old man. Thank you everyone for this week long journey.

He really did get a lot out of going and I’ve already noticed a change – Partner of 2014 participant.

Overall I thought the course was absolutely brilliant. There were no expectations before the course, however it has been one of the best things I have done in a long time.

In response to Trojans trek it was invaluable to be with the other veteran’s despite the different campains/ conflicts we were all involved with. As we share a common bond of varying level of ptsd, and the inability to discuss many of our experiences with any other than each other due to content, and fear of judgment (shit that is so far out that could not possibly happen).

Many times with different participant’s the comment was simply shit I haven’t laughed this much in a long time, how bloody true is this very fact.

I simply make this plea; there was very little support for the Vietnam vet’s upon their return please do not make the same mistake with us and those whom are to return in the future.

The simple fact is the true benefit is being away from everything (Tele news, the papers, the radio, and to some degree society) and given the opportunity to think reassess and absorb words of wisdom from others who experienced the issues some time before us. So please keep the program going and thank you to those who took time out to help us.

Went for a walk with the boys and had to stop because I needed time out. The boys were concerned but realised I needed time out. Was memories good and bad from my childhood to the present came rushing out at me in no particular order while. I was looking at a small running stream. Did a calming routine that I have been taught here and was able to focus. Today I am in myself and at peace.

Something has come together for me today. Feeling great this morning, did not wake or stir last night. At home I regularly use sleeping tablets to help me sleep. I am really looking forward to getting home tomorrow, not because I am not enjoying myself but because I think the penny has finally dropped. I feel like a kid who has fallen off his bike and is sitting in the dirt feeling sorry for myself waiting for someone to come and help me. But now I feel I have been helped off the ground and dusted off. I am not back on the bike- that’s up for me to do myself but I have the tools ….

I came to the trek with blinkers (sic) on, both about my life and the trek. I believe I will leave minus the blinkers, in a better state than I arrived and with a better understanding of who I am, what I have done and what I can do from here on in.

The activity has been beneficial for myself and I believe that I will be able to use much of the advice given.

There is now a good relationship with my husband but how many years of counselling, and at what cost to us and financially for the govt. How many couples haven’t made it, how many young people, sons and daughters of veterans found other ways to cope because the help the veterans were receiving was way too slow to save the family? What I saw in Trojan’s Trek was the opportunity for the older veterans to get alongside the younger veterans and speak truth and life to them – Partner of 2014, participant.

I have found since returning from Trojan’s Trek that I have totally different outlook on life and now I deal with things that in the past would have had me” losing it”. I deal with negative things a lot better. My wife has commented on the change in me since I came back. I have done a number of courses for PTSD, but I have found that TROJAN’S TREK has been the best and most beneficial by far!! Thanks Moose and all the staff.

Trojans Trek was an extremely mentally fatiguing time for me; it took me a few days of rest when I got home to process what I had been through, even though I got and still have some of my best sleep out in the bush in swags. To this day even though some of my worst memories from being wounded in Afghanistan one of the best is sleeping in swags, so what better place and environment I think to take veterans than out in the bush.  2014 trekker

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TROJAN’S TREK; THE FEMALE EXPERIENCE

On Sunday 21 September 2014, a gathering of 16 women and two facilitators met up in Adelaide to take part in a complete unknown. They were a collective of women who had been finding it tough to live a normal life due to ill health, physical injury or issues related to military service. Most of the women hadn’t met before and they were about to participate in a pilot program for Trojan’s Trek sisters.  This was to be a national, if not world first program, in recognition of various traumas suffered by women who have volunteered to serve their country in the Australian Defence Force.

The Trek is a 6 day outdoor experience in the North Flinders Ranges on Moolooloo Station. The women were based at the Blinman Hut, a small remote stone hut, yet adequately serviced with running hot and cold water and toilet facilities. To say that the women were anxious, would be a massive understatement as fear of the unknown and loss of control in a challenging situation are the enemies of most women, let alone women suffering.

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A set of sisterly virtues was adopted which in turn set the scene for the duration of the trek. That basic connection was made with each individual and holistically as a group. Every woman was individually supported and allowed to be themselves in a safe and secure environment with the knowledge that they could choose to discuss their personal story if they so desired. All had equal opportunity to “spill their guts of burden” and be no longer judged for a past that wasn’t their fault.  All took that opportunity in some way shape or form with support, validation and recognition that their story was worth telling. As a result, all felt no longer the need to carry the load that they had personally been holding within for a very long time.

To place a dollar value on the return of self-worth and empowerment is just not possible. To allow a woman to choose a release from a past in which she has been trapped is priceless! To show them that care and compassion can exist in such a raw and rugged environment is an experience that will resonate with them for life!  I know for a fact that there are now 16 women carrying a lighter load due to our week in the bush.  Sixteen sisters with spirit and new hope for change facing the future. It is a cause and awareness of the needs of service women which is long overdue. It has shown the way and given the participants the choice of “living versus existing”.

This program needs to continue and be funded accordingly for all of the reasons that I have stated above, no ifs or buts.  There is no price on saving a human life and empowering a person again with unity, purpose and cause! This is a very real issue and after all we are someone’s sister, mother, aunt and friend!

Anna Ventry-Sutcliffe

SELECTION OF COMMENTS FROM PARTICIPANTS JOURNALS TROJAN’S TREK 2013

When I sit back and think poor me, I know now to stop and engage some common sense, I am not alone! Being in this environment has taught me humility and respect.

Wow! Where to start? I suppose the beginning but in the journey, where is the beginning? I am surprised just how quickly and unplanned the panic sets in. I was apprehensive about doing a journal but I think, albeit slowly I am finding the process helpful.

I would seriously consider coming back as a mentor as well as trying to influence some digger mates to consider coming on 2014. I find just being in the middle of the wilderness with like-minded blokes to be very grounding, peaceful relaxing. Yesterday here was only the first day and already I feel like I have known some of the blokes here for a while

Being here is really reinforcing where I am at, where I want to be and who I want to be. I sincerely hope to one day spend my time being a part of this and sharing my knowledge …It makes me fell alive again

I have gotten a lot out of this journey, met some amazing blokes who I will be mates with for life.
Before the trek I could not even sleep, just toss and turn with thoughts what have I gotten into, how did my life get so f…d up. Should I just bail and go the lone wolf and stop inflicting my family with this CURSE.I was told the drive was 3 hours by Dave which probably helped me get there. So it was six but what the f..k you’re here anyway go for the ride, that’s three hours less counselling.

I was made feel at home, I was not judged(?).The first days talks were inspirational. Poxey got my head going, poke here poke there, amazing shit activated previous knowledge, synapses are firing

I can help others by my example just by turning up, that is the start of a new improved life. I will now be more interested in my family instead of interesting. Got to open up to Dogs a little more about relationships with family and girlfriend

It was really good having Craig and Mick on the trek because they really understand as they have been there as well. A penny for our thoughts and I got quite choked up because I was upset that the time was coming when I was going to have to say goodbye to these amazing blokes. They have been so supportive and actually understand what I am going through. I can actually talk to blokes who I can open up to and trust, this stuff is just priceless.

I think it has already made such a big impact on my life and I’m so grateful to be able to call every one of these blokes my mate, both trekkers and staff. I feel like I belong, like somehow I am meant to be here, this is my moment, my time. My choice to fix me. Being on this program and surrounded by others who are in similar boot, I hope to gain the tools or at least begin to.

If I wasn’t here, I know I would not live to see Xmas. These blokes call themselves farmers, over the past 3 days they have only planted the seeds but the fu…rs have started to germinate.

..it’s all those jars filled with pent-up emotions/feelings/experiences have all been smashed …it is a relief. I told the boys my story. The support feedback I’ve received has been incredible. I was finally free of my demons?

Happy comments from Trekkers

Participant 2010.
The first of the following three SMS from came out of the blue from a 2010 trekker. The latter two were sent following my follow up encouragement and enquiries in an effort to identify the specific source of his benefit.

“Good day Moose, Just want to thank you once again for your efforts on Trojans Trek 2010, had me ups and downs since then but I have bit the bullet last year and went and saw a shrink through DVA. If it wasn’t for you and Dogs and the RAR Association who knows where I would be. All is good, on a good path and feeling at ease. H……

“Moose it’s taken the stigma of seeking help away. That is the major step for me anyway. I’ve picked up Dogs Bible every now and then. I’ve been back to Moolooloo twice since then on camping trips with the family shown them Third Water, Hannigan Gap and Nuccaleena. May sound silly but I feel a piece of me is left there, but in a good way. Probably the turning point in the right direction instead of the wrong direction. Cheers

“Yeh no problems mate. The Dogs Bible was easy very to understand. Using like the geese, squirrel, beaver. Touch on Mentoring, The Box of Life. The isolation of the Flinders with other veterans was a real journey in my mind. I opened up to a degree with some members, it was the very first step in kicking the stigma of PTSD. I still keep to myself with civvie friends but feel free to talk about it with other veterans now.

The biggest hurdle was anger within myself, so much anxiety. It became a relief that my shrink has given me ssri medication (Lexapro) to stem the anxiety that comes with intrusive thoughts and the continual feeling of being on edge, (always looking for cover etc). This combined with my time in the Flinders is a Godsend. I can remember loosing that anger feeling in me at the Flinders but becoming a blubbering mess of emotion. But the pressure of life in the fast lane and the civilian priorities just bring on anxiety that is very hard to control.

I keep Dogs’ Bible in the drawer next to my bed and I refresh my mind every now and then to remind me about positives. I tend now to sit back and study the people around me more and try to be more approachable. I guess when Debbie says I am changing for the better it’s working. I can now understand Dogs with how he has bad memories, but chooses not to let them take over! The Bible works for me, maybe a travel friendly version (condensed) so it can fit in your glove box. G