Adventurous Training Wing

The Resilience Adventure

The first occasion a soldier faces real fear must not be on the battlefield. Just like any other skill, managing one’s fear and stress requires investment and practise. canoe

Roosevelt said it best when he declared that, ‘Courage is the ability to operate in the presence of fear, not the absence of fear’. But what he didn’t say was that we can grow the courage within our people, and we can grow their ability to operate in the presence of fear.

Consider the first time you did something risky, perhaps it was your first free fall jump, opposed mission profile, enemy engagement, public speaking or if you think way back, maybe when you first asked for a date or rode a bicycle. The common theme is that in each of these is that our mind and body conspire against us.

When gripped by fear our pulse increases, breathing becomes shallow, muscles tense, blood leaves the limbs to protect the major organs. Similarly, the brain’s capacity for complex decision making is reduced, and focus is limited to immediately in front, simple, in the moment thoughts.

atw-iceAll of these evolutionary adaptations were fine for our ancestors survival; but these things combine to reduce our performance in an ever more complex war fighting environment. Stress induced auditory exclusion prevents us from hearing that important message in our earpiece. Tunnel vision prevents us from seeing others when taking a sight picture of a
target. Over tensioned muscles prevent us from grappling as efficiently with an enemy combatant than we do on the training mat.

In modern western societies we focus significantly, and appropriately on safety. Clearly it is unacceptable to deliberately cause casualties in training.
However, the overly obvious safety environment robs the soldier of a fundamental training element. That is, how do we prepare our soldiers to face a real risk, real danger, and thus real fear. More importantly, how do we prepare them to overcome it and ‘operate in the presence of fear’?

Learning about oneself does not necessarily work in a familiar environment when we are within our comfort zone. Learning about our true self comes when we are under arduous conditions, when we are outside our comfort zone, when we are in novel environments and we cannot rely on masking our behaviors with TTPs.

This is best in environments of real risk to support this learning, mitigated to a safe level, but the mitigation is not necessarily observable by the participant.

This learning is best delivered in a positive and socially supportive environment, where constructive feedback for development is offered and gladly received. Sometimes the rigid structures of military hierarchy limits this form of feedback, consider the perceptive private attempting to deliver feedback to their Company Commander!

The key is that the learning from the event must be translatable to different environments and contexts focused on improving the human performance capacity of the individual and the group. In the Army context this must be ethically shaped by our core values of courage, initiative, respect and teamwork. At its heart the training must strive to enhance leadership or resilience or both together.

The Australian Army has an outstanding product sitting on the shelf, recently it has been dusted off and given a polish by the current custodians. The sophistication and efficacy of this program has made significant impact upon the lives of the recruits undertaking the new Army Pre-Conditioning Program at Kapooka. Here, the program has changed the young soldiers to give them a significant and obvious boost to their self-confidence, performance, self-perception, and dare I say it; resilience.

The product is Adventurous Training, the new sheen of polish is the Experiential Resilience Education Exercise, the Military Facilitator course and the Experiential Leadership Development Exercise. These programs add more sophistication direction and focus to the programs in a method that is accessible to soldiers and understood by commanders. The results are clear, measurable, significant and evident for all to see.

Adventurous Training Wing is the ADF centre of excellence for this adult learning in a reality based experiential environment. Whilst technical skills on a snow covered mountain, river, in a cave, canyon, or at sea are important; they are not the purpose. The purpose is to use that environment and the peers within a group to enhance their self awareness, impacts of behavior, cognition under combat stress, and how to deal with it all.

Adventurous Training has come a very long way over the past few years. It is now a sophisticated tool used to improve human performance and enable resilience through adaptation to thrive in a variety of environments. This includes preparing soldiers and leaders for the stress of combat, as well as practical performance improvement and supporting soldier intervention and return post deployment.

Soldiers and combat leaders must continuously invest in themselves by developmental programs such as Adventurous Training to build upon resilience and courage that they can transfer to the battlefield. Just like physical fitness, muscles not exercised atrophy and grow weak; so too does mental fitness require resilience exercises to remain strong. Human performance is enhanced through Adventurous Training, developing the individual and group qualities required for battle.

Jeremy Barraclough