From: Lieutenant Colonel Moose Dunlop OAM (Retd) 0408 088 886 firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Trojan’s Trek Qld 2016 was conducted from 8 to 13 May on, and around, the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (SSAA) Range Facility at Captain’s Mountain in the Darling Downs. This facility provides a very suitable location at which to base the trek. It is also a mobile phone free environment. It offers a slice of early Queensland farming history and a remoteness which has an impact on the messages delivered. As one of the trekkers wrote, “I’ve had the most peaceful night’s sleep I have had in a long time.”
2. The trek which targets veterans from conflicts post 1980, was the eighth run to date, and the second in Queensland with locally sourced general hands and independent funding.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. In order to justify the program’s claims to successful outcomes, four standard psychosocial instruments have been administered since Trek One in 2009.
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.
6. These are completed on three occasions:
a. prior to the commencement of the trek,
b. Immediately following the completion of the trek, and
c. two to three months later.
7. In some respects these instruments are repetitive, verging on annoying for those compiling, but efforts to identify more appropriate tools through the Psychology Faculty of UniSA and VVCS have not met with success. There are obvious benefits in maintaining use of the current measurements which can be directly compared with earlier data, therefore at this time no changes are predicted in the short term.
8. An honours student from Uni SA has recently commenced a longitudinal study into the longer term impact on the trekkers after a 12 month period. Although the results from such a study will be of interest to the Foundation and staff, many factors outside the influence or impact of the trek may affect long term outcomes. There are in place strict guidelines governing personal identification and the use of the data to protect confidentiality.
9. As in previous years final numbers were not confirmed until two weeks before the trek. This is late but unavoidable as one of the base tenets of involvement is that the participants must volunteer to attend. Many of the male participants were lacking in self-confidence and had low self-esteem. It is true that the stigma surrounding mental health exist in the community, particularly for male members. It is therefore difficult to gain an early commitment to take part in an activity which may be conducted a long way from home and from which withdrawal is difficult once commenced. In addition, because participants will probably be unknown to each other, the course of least resistance can be failure to attend. No pressure is placed on any of those who wish to be involved. The profiles of those who attended were as follows:
11. Because this was only the second Queensland Trek, we elected to invite Moose Dunlop, Robert Dogs’ Kearney, Colin Cogswell and Shane Bolton back as senior and experienced mentors. We then chose to select a team of trained understudies’ who have all experienced the Trek as participants and secondly, observe the senior staff with a view to ultimately replacing them in Queensland. Based on the capability of our new Kitchen Manager we will no longer need Colin Cogswell to attend any future Qld Treks. Similarly, Moose Dunlop will not attend any further Qld Treks.
12. The local team was comprised of the following; two Vietnam era veterans as mentors, a Rwanda veteran, Afghanistan veteran and Solomon Islands veteran as mentors and general hands and one civilian contractor. In addition the four senior staff from South Australia, one who also doubled as our medic, rounded out the team.
13. Michael Harding played the role of Qld Trojan’s Trek Administration Officer while Shane Webber acted as the participant point of contact and Brett van der Heide is equipment officer.
14. Only two trekkers required accommodation prior to the Trek as others were accommodated by staff.
15. Because of the state of the roads in the area of the trek, the use of 4WD vehicles is preferred. This mode of travel offers an additional benefit, in that during transit from one location to the next, it is the practice for one staff member to travel with three participants in each vehicle. This provides the opportunity for further discussion related to the presentation just concluded or in fact to any other issue which surfaces. And that happens so frequently the staff refer to the 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. Next year a cheaper and more conveniently located vehicle hire deal will be sought.
16. The program is comprised of subjects such as Communication, How the Brain Works, Leaving a Legacy, Victim to Warrior and others. It was delivered by our two main facilitators and contributions were received from our mentors who shared their stories.
17. As previously indicated, participants are self-nominating. However, it is important to gain approval from their treating doctor to avoid including individuals with the potential for self-harm or pose a danger to the staff. This was achieved as part of the nomination process by the submission of a form signed by the participant’s doctor. The appointment of Shane Webber as the QLD Point of Contact has also proven incredibly useful to reassuring participants that their choice to attend is a good one. Shane is a Rwanda veteran.
18. The organization for Trojan’s Trek Qld 2016 was:
Moose Dunlop — Program Director Brett Van der Heide — Mentor
Robert Dogs’ Kearney — Senior Facilitator Shane Webber – Mentor
Peter Keith — Program Director (Qld)/Facilitator Shane Bolton — Chef
Michael Harding — Administration Officer Colin Cogswell — Chef
Trevor Hewitt — Chef Paul Randall – Facilitator
Sally Dunlop — Secretary Tex Howarth — Mentor
19. The Trekkers were privileged to be joined for lunch on the last day of the Trek by Suzanne Desailly and Wendy Presneill from Mates4Mates. It provided an opportunity for our sponsors to get a sense of what the participants have taken away from the experience.
20. Transport requirements for the trek were as follows:
a. One 13 seat bus to carry the team and one staff supervisor to Captain’s Mountain.
b. Seven vehicles (3 4 WD vehicles and 4 AWD Vehicles) were utilised with one being a tray-back dual-cab. These were supplemented by a Hilux 4WD owned by one of the mentors. We have also acquired an enclosed trailer which used to carry the equipment and swags for the participants.
c. At the conclusion of the trek, staff and participants returned to Brisbane in the 4WD vehicles.
d. The staff departed Mates4Mates about an hour ahead of the participants’ bus which afforded the opportunity for a quick briefing ahead of the participants arriving. Colin, Shane and Trevor Hewitt had been at the facility for twenty four hours, and had set up the kitchen and received the food delivery.
21. For this trek it was necessary to purchase local equipment for the trek. A new enclosed trailer, swags, camp chairs, water containers, crockery and cutlery, wire, gloves etc. were bought. We also purchased tools such as shovels, chainsaw and UHF radios. All equipment is now being managed by Brett van der Heide, Equipment Officer.
22. A partner’s document was produced and given out to some partners at the start of the Trek to be read while their partners were away. This was tried for the first time this year and the anecdotal feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It provided some context as well as FAQ’s about how best to support themselves and their partner on return. Thanks to Bek Houghton for her insight.
24. The trek established a base at the SSAA Range Base which is 20 km West of Millmerran on the Gore Highway. The property occupies approximately 400 acres of country which varies in type and relief from east to west. The distance to the area of the trek is approximately 300 km. Travelling these distances is time consuming and expensive in fuel, but the advantages in having no mobile telephone, television or radio reception more than offset 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.
25. 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 responses to the various lessons of the day and to make general comment on the trek. This has proved to be satisfactory from the point of view of progressive comment and also provides an opportunity to collectively review and anchor the day’s lessons. Although these comments are qualitative they do represent the perceptions of the participants at the time and are not always strictly in accord with the quantitative measurements gained via the psychosocial instruments. This is considered to be a limitation of the tools used to measure change.
26. The messages which are conveyed during the trek are related to relationships and behavior management. Simple subjects; but the style and method of delivery combined with the surroundings make the messages much more powerful. There is no doubt that the live-in nature of the trek when shared with other veterans is a significant factor in the success of the program.
27. Staff feedback has been sought and has provided some excellent suggestions for next year’s Trek.
28. On the last night of the trek a ’tick and flick’ survey was issued and completed by the participants. The questions were aimed at an immediate response to the trek and were primarily designed to gauge how the course was conducted, the efficiency of the administration as well as an opportunity to comment on the content.
29. Telephone. Mobile telephones operate intermittently during the Trek. Telephone communications were available via the base telephone to the outside world. A satellite telephone was available in the bush if an emergency arose. It was not used.
30. Radio. While in the bush, UHF CB hand held and hand-held UHF radios were used for communications on simplex.
31. A doctor was not available for this trip. The nearest fully equipped hospital is at Millmerran, approximately half an hour away. First line medical support was provided by a number of other staff are qualified as senior first aiders. The longest exposure to the most serious risk was assessed as traffic accidents during the trip to and from Captain’s Mountain. No medical or psychiatric issues arose.
32. The delivery of the male program was the joint responsibility of the Chief Instructor Robert Kearney and civilian consultant Peter Keith. Their collective credibility and insight made for interesting and varied sessions which carry a common message presented in a unique way in a different environment. This trek was again utilized to provide training for other past trekkers who are part of the succession plan. All mentors performed well. This year Michael Harding, Brett van der Heide, Shane Webber and Paul Randall all facilitated key pieces of program content as part of our succession strategy. Al, performed well.
33. In the opinion of the participants, the lessons and program outcomes appear to be more effective when delivered by a veteran as opposed to clinician in consulting rooms. This is completely in accord with the philosophy on which the trek is based; that is older veterans helping younger veterans. In other words, the tribal elders provide advice and encouragement to the young. This approach has been adopted over many thousands of years by other civilizations and in today’s society is adopted by alcoholics and gamblers.
34. 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 practice.
35. The inclusion of civilian expertise provides a balance to the military presence. They deliver sessions linked to their expertise and are skilled in providing advice and encouragement in a form which is perceived differently to that provided by the veterans. The balance is fine but necessary to gain the confidence of the attendees. All of these members have been instrumental in providing follow-up advice which in a number of cases has resulted in job placement. The gains from their inclusion are manifold.
36. This aspect of the experience is important if the impact of the trek is to be maximized. It also would be beneficial if an organization with greater resources could become actively involved in follow-up.
37. The topics which will need to be addressed in the short to mid-term period are:
a. the inclusion of a female trek,
b. succession planning to ensure that the management and style of the project is maintained, and
c. the development of an achievable business plan to support the Foundation’s objectives.
38. There is no doubt that the isolation and the live-in nature of the trek are powerful catalysts in conveying opinions and promoting disarming honest comment from all concerned. Sustained by the opinion of strong anecdotal evidence, the trek was an outstanding success; this comment applies to both male and female versions. However, the realization that behavior affects relationships and behavior modification may offer an answer to an unsatisfactory personal life is just the start. In the opinions of the participants, they have universally achieved a number of goals and leave equipped to face the challenge. By their own admission, not only have the participants faced and discussed their problems frankly among the other attendees and staff, many have formed relationships which are based on personal and common problems.
39. For some this is the commencement of a long journey; understanding and further help will assist in their arriving at a better place. The real test will be to carry the determination into each individuals’ domain and anchor that in their lives. It is desirable that participants form a mental strong point to which they can retreat before consolidation and continuation. It is this aspect of the total picture which requires much greater external support and follow-up from existing supporting networks.
40. One of the discoveries which more than half of the group became aware of was that they and their families have lived through personal problems thinking they were alone in their pain and frustration. All of the participants exchanged email addresses and intend to maintain contact and provide advice and assistance to each other. This internal bonding is proving most valuable in their respective journeys.
41. Both 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 may not suit every veteran but it is a valuable and effective adjunct to other treatment.
42. Further information about the Foundation and trek is available on the web site at www.trojanstrek.com.
Lieutenant Colonel Moose Dunlop (Retd) OAM
15 June 2016
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