Adventurous Training: Forging Fearlessness

Physical Development is a key component of Armed Forces military capability and it comprises the three pillars of Physical Training, Adventurous Training, and Sport. The pillar of interest within this training article concerns Adventurous Training (AT). Adventurous Training is mandated military training that makes a significant contribution to the delivery of operational capability.

 
In the fight against Defence cuts and budget restrictions, it is necessary to remind all that the rationale for Adventurous Training is huge. Adventurous Training makes a significant contribution to military effectiveness, fighting spirit and the personal development of Service Personnel. AT is classed as on-duty, mandated, military training which, through exposure to challenges and controlled risk, enables Service Personnel to develop the fortitude, rigour, robustness, initiative and leadership necessary to deliver the resilience that military personnel require within training and on operations (JSP 419).

 

 

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Speaking as a PTI, the intent of this training article is to educate Service Personnel of all ranks about the purpose and value of Adventurous Training to correct any prevailing misunderstanding that still exists when obtaining approval. The objective of this post is a calling to commanders defence wide to continue to support and further encourage active participation by all ranks at all levels.

 

 

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With recent inspiring endeavours from the Gurkha Everest team, SPEAR 17, the Ice Maiden team and Lt Scott Sears, a further aim of this post is to encourage individuals of all ranks, ages and abilities to take up Adventurous Training opportunities, in the hope this inspires a new era of expeditionary spirit; encouraging individuals to continue setting personal challenges and develop a goal-orientated mentality. Personally, I owe all my past endeavours to previous AT experiences that equipped me with the courage, confidence, interpersonal and practical skills needed to step forward and advance in my career. Such development opportunities should remain open to other likeminded individuals seeking to improve themselves for the benefit of their employers and regiments.

 
“These men expanded the realms of possibility. Most of us will never climb Mount Everest, cross Antarctica, or land on the moon, but we know we can. The truth is we are all liberated by the success of others because they show it can be done.” – Peter Hillary, 2013.

 

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The Aim of Adventurous Training
“To provide challenging outdoor training for Service personnel in specified adventurous activities that incorporates controlled exposure to risk, in order to develop: leadership; teamwork; physical fitness; moral and physical courage; as well as other personal attributes and skills that are vital to the delivery of operational capability” (JSP 419).

 

 

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As an alternative training method, Adventurous Training effectively cultivates leadership, develops robustness, improves physical fitness, enhances teamwork and spearheads courage amongst Service personnel. AT is a fundamental and effective means of delivering military ethos and should not be passed off as a 'jolly'. Adventurous Training courses ran by JSMTC have been specifically designed to build teamwork, self-discipline, determination, coordination and courage amongst individuals. It is vital that such opportunities remain open to those young and old wishing to grow and develop.

 

 

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Need for Balance & Implications for Rehabilitation
A further benefit of AT concerns its ability to provide balance in the lives of Service personnel who are subject to the pressures of military commitments and periods of high tempo operations, thus it provides an invaluable opportunity for decompression that plays an important part in Service life. In relation to the current recruitment and retention crisis, the opportunities to undertake Adventurous Training activities also provide an excellent marketing tool due to its ability to provide a positive public image of the Services and showcase the variety of opportunities available.

 

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Adventurous training offers meaningful psychosocial outcomes among military personnel who have experienced physical and/ or psychological disability. Rehabilitating Service personnel stated that AT courses helped them recover aspects of their previous life and self through becoming physically active again, rediscovering a sense of purpose and reconnecting to others. Individuals described a broadening of life horizons as a result of a course, through new activities, being valued/ respected/ cared for, and being inspired by other people.

 

 

PTI Thompson: "Invest in yourself, if we aren't learning we aren't improving. We gain strength, confidence, and courage when we really stop to look fear in the face. Once we conquer our fears only then are we able to progress to the next challenge that comes our way."

 

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Implications for Personal Development
Adventurous Training offer individual’s huge potential for personal and physical development. Aims of expeditions usually focus on providing challenging and arduous training in unfamiliar environments. Expeditions aim to involve controlled exposure to risk, develop leadership, teamwork, physical fitness, moral and physical courage, among other personal attributes and skills that are vital to operational capability.

 

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To be effective when under a high-pressured situation, a soldier must be able to control his or her emotions for the benefit of the team. Similarly, when a soldier is training in a challenging environment it is crucial the soldier remains clear headed, takes a breath when needed and appreciates the importance of collectively working together as a team to solve pressing problems. This requires emotional intelligence - a skills which is acquired through experience.

 

 

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A Solution to Diminishing Fighting Power

The British Army’s strategic edge over its adversaries has always rested on the strength of its soldiers and officers. The Chief of the General Staff acknowledged in his 2017 RUSI speech that the Army will continue to carry significant risk due to capability gaps. To combat this, and to ensure the Army retains its status as a credible fighting force Command must focus on driving up standards amongst its existing soldiers. The Army can ill afford to have disinterested, underperforming soldiers that set poor examples to impressionable, newly trained soldiers.
In relation to the declining morale of soldiers, Adventurous Training courses have an interesting ability to not only enhance a range of skills, but also change mind-sets and instil new attitudes. To prevent a further loss of talent within the British Army there needs to be a concerted effort to invest in Junior NCOs.

 

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I agree with a forward-thinking article in 'The Army Leader' that states that 'the practical application of the Army’s Values and Standards must occur more often; too often abstract words are regurgitated on a regular basis by disinterested MATT instructors reading verbatim from PowerPoint slides. As the British Army continues its adjustments against painful fiscal constraints, Command must acknowledge that its Junior NCOs and inquisitive Private soldiers are the vital ground, the cohorts critical to the future success of the British Army'. Research has regularly demonstrated that when individuals feel empowered at work, it is associated with stronger job performance, job satisfaction, and commitment to the organisation. With skilled, enthused and motivated Junior NCOs, private soldiers will be no doubt benefit from such knowledge and attitudes. They will have a clear and unequivocal example of what they too can achieve and see how good behaviour is appropriately rewarded.

 

 

The regular and reserve British Army is an organisation full of professional, intelligent soldiers. Why would an individual stay in an organisation which doesn’t support their individual growth, ambitions, or value their worth when they could leave and be a part of a more supportive and inclusive environment which does?

 

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Decision Making Capability Under Stress

 

Challenging environments can be characterised by uncertain, incomplete, ambiguous, and dynamic environments. Circumstances in challenging environments can change quickly and unexpectedly. This makes it difficult to make an accurate assessment of the situation, thus interfering with good judgement and effective decision making.

 

 

Previous studies (Smith et al, 2016) have found that stressful environmental conditions such as those faced on Adventurous Training courses including expeditions result in psychological growth. It is understood that when in challenging environments, stress can reduce the ability of teams to communicate and coordinate effectively.

 

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In the context of AT, previous research with expedition teams has identified that whilst technical skills are important, the importance of interpersonal relations and social intelligence cannot be over stated. Expedition teams are often isolated, under pressured conditions for a prolonged period, in which applies to personnel working in the Special Forces and Service personnel out intense military tasks and on operations.

 

 

Expedition environments can be viewed as useful training to better prepare Service personnel and teams due to deploy on operations or undergo specific military tasks. AT activities including expeditions offer significant opportunities to uncover team dynamics that influence team cohesion and individuals psychological coping ability under conditions of stress and high pressure.

 

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Psychological Pressures & Decision Making
Studies (Kjærgaard A. et al, 2007) have shown that individuals who deploy to remote training camps or enter theatres of war often experience an abrupt and difficult transition - not everyone copes in the same way. The physical demands of challenging environments, such as severe temperatures and achieving missions can involve the risk of injury and death.

 

 

Physical hazards are not the hardest part of an extreme deployment. The psychological pressures can be as – or even more – challenging. It’s not just the fear and anxiety triggered by ever-present danger. Service personnel may also face days or weeks of monotony. And, the interpersonal pressures can become intolerable: being cooped up for weeks with the same small group of people raises the risk of destructive social conflict.
These physical and psychological sources of stress can interfere with decision making in many ways. It was found under acute (short-lived, high intensity) stress soldiers focus on short-term rapid responses at the expense of complex thinking. This type of response can be life-saving when we need to react to immediate danger but can also lead to ‘tunnel vision’ and ill-thought-through decisions. In some cases it was also found that decision makers under stress experience ‘decision inertia’, a form of mental paralysis in which they procrastinate and find themselves unable to act.

 

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Chronic, or enduring, stress can also have a corrosive effect on soldiers. It was reported experiencing danger, hardship, interpersonal pressure, sleep deprivation, and monotony for days at a time can lead to impaired vigilance, reduced stress-resiliency, suppressed emotion, and difficulties interacting with others (Stuster, 1998). It is apparent that without specific training such responses are unlikely to promote sustained effective decision making.

 

 

We're aware that many decisions in challenging environments are often inherently risky. Under testing situations, decisions often need to be made in time-limited and dynamic scenarios. Studies have found that the stress of facing high stakes choices can lead to tunnel vision or decision inertia and may induce perceived or actual time pressures. In relation to the physical environment, exposure to extremely hot or cold environments has been linked to slower reaction times, particularly when doing complicated military tasks. At high altitudes, hypoxia (lack of oxygen) leads to mental confusion and slower decision making. Other physical aspects of the context often demand attention to stay alive.

 
In relation to social pressures, being isolated with other soldiers who have undergone limited or no prior training together can prompt destructive interpersonal conflict, even over minor issues. Being aware that soldiers are scrutinising decision making can be a significant and disruptive source of stress, particularly if an inexperienced soldier is concerned with what other people think of them. For instance, fear of appearing a coward may prompt an uncertain soldier to take reckless risks. Taking decisions as a team can also be problematic in high stress situations – too much agreement can end up with ‘groupthink’, and too much disagreement can result in indecisiveness, decision avoidance, or outright conflict.

 

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Studies on patrol teams (Kjærgaard et al, 2007) found prevailing conditions of monotony can degrade morale, sometimes leading to petty squabbling, apathy, and depression. Sensory deprivation can also have strange effects, like hallucinations, and can have a serious impact on vigilance, and even mental health. All these, of course, interfere with the ability to make good choices in critical conditions. Sleep deprivation, caused by lack of sleep or sleeping at odd times (as is common in a theatre of war), can interfere with the ability to focus attention on relevant information, take in and process information, adapt to changing circumstances, and communicate effectively with team members.

 

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Better Decision Making Through Adventurous Training
The best way to protect an individual or team from making poor decisions under stress is to train and prepare for it. Training enhances both skills and self-efficacy, enabling individuals to make better decisions and gives soldiers the confidence to carry them out with minimal hesitation. High-pressure training simulations such as challenging expeditions give soldiers a taste of what it feels like to experience high stress and to understand their reactions to it. Practising important physical skills repeatedly, like complex climbing manoeuvres, means they become ‘over-learned’ – engrained to a point of being automatic, and more likely to persist in the face of danger and fear.

 
As with any military deployment or exercise, team preparation is important: a well-trained cohesive section acts in harmony, coordinating their actions and looking out for each other, to achieve complex goals in hazardous conditions.
Once in a challenging environment, soldiers learn how to minimise the risks of social stress by keeping an eye on minor spats or simmering tensions that could escalate into something more serious. Such environments enable soldiers to understand the importance of strong interpersonal relationships, developing emotional intelligence, being tolerant as well as tolerable towards their peers.

 

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PTI Thompson: "Through expeditions, there is something about building up comradeship that I believe is the greatest of all feats. It's the sharing in dangers with your company of peers. It's the intense effort, the giving of everything you've got. When you reach the end together, exhausted yet elated it's a rather extraordinary yet pleasant feeling. Challenges are what make us."

 

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Stress Adaption and Stress Coping Techniques
Soldiers need to be able to adapt to stress, therefore a team’s ability to deal with stress can only be develop by training for it. The adaption happens when soldiers are put into ‘stretch’, a zone between their stress point and their crisis point.

 

Training should push soldiers to failure and push soldiers to uncomfortable levels of stress; not just to help soldiers make decisions under pressure but to also help their brains adapt to the stress. Soldiers gain no benefit when they are given a stress-free exercise or training serial. In conjunction with brain adaption it is important to teach stress coping mechanisms.

 

 

Adventurous Training often involves coaching sessions led by instructors in which soldiers are taught how to develop coping mechanisms during stressful environments. After action reviews and reflection sessions on how we perceive stress enable soldiers to identify it and how to cope with it.

 

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Team Climate – Leadership Matters
"On the 15th of May 2017, 13 members of the Brigade of Gurkhas stood on the summit of Mount Everest, the first serving Gurkhas ever to do so. The Gurkha Everest Expedition 2017 was the culmination of a 5-year journey; it was the most successful mountaineering expedition on Everest in some time. The 2-month long expedition achieved a 100% summit success by the summit team and it returned all members without any serious injury. It was, without question, a huge achievement." - Capt Chris Boote.

 
The Gurkha Everest Expedition success was down to years of build-up training. It was reported that during training team friction, argument, and uncertainty naturally occurred. Constant questions were asked of the leadership. Does that mean the team and its leadership style was weak? Absolutely not. During training mistakes will be made, disagreements will occur, and leaders will be challenged robustly. What matters is how such matters are dealt with.
There is a popular assumption that challenging environments induce a climate of hostility, incompatibility, and tension by intensifying differences and disagreements among team members. Previous studies (Bishop, 2004) that explored the characteristics and behaviours that constitute effective leadership indicated that perceived leadership effectiveness was significantly related to team climate. Adventurous training therefore would contribute to a more complete and useful picture of a team’s climate, and guide team selection.
Adventurous Training also uncovers various levels and styles of leadership, it enables individuals to be open-minded enough to let other Service personnel of all ranks to take charge as different situations are encountered as opposed to being dictated. On courses, all participants are appointed roles of leadership to one of followership, and back. The team hierarchy is flexible enough that the right person could be at the top of the tree at a given time. In order to produce collaborative teams, we should be more comfortable in this sort of environment. Developing a collaborative leadership style will come partly through sharing and analysing experiences openly and frankly, so every individual can learn from each other. Adventurous Training activities further understanding and knowledge of each members characters in trying circumstances. Team members can identify strengths and areas for development and give tailored feedback.

 

 

AT also offers the incentive for developing leadership. For any team, success is dependent on the collective workings of each member, and no doubt results in measurable success on operations. Many lessons can be learnt for newly commissioned officers hoping to learn from such experiences. As shown amongst the Gurkha Everest team, good leadership is not perfect or conflict free. It embraces conflict, solves problems, overcomes dissent and revels in creativity.

 

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PTI Thompson: “Within each of us exists an adventurous flame fuelled from our need to feel alive and flight or fight response. Goal setting and overcoming setbacks provides the chance to push our boundaries and achieve a real sense of individual and group satisfaction. I credit all my previous accomplishments to Adventurous Training experiences that changed my attitude, my perspective on future goals, and my definition of success.”

 

 

Implications for Team Selection
To effectively evaluate a team’s performance it necessarily must involve a wide range of physiological, psychological, and psychosocial factors. Expeditions can prove to be useful in relation to team selection for a specific task or military deployment. In relation to team dynamics, AT can also be instructive for Command when attempting to assess individual and group behaviour in challenging environments. AT facilitates the identification of salient individual and team factors, including personality characteristics and personal attitudes and values.

 

 

Military teams need to rely on each other for social interactions. Studies on groups (Kjærgaard et al, 2007) have indicated that interpersonal conflict and poor group cohesion have a detrimental influence on both work performance and well-being. Adventurous training in a challenging environment provides useful insight into individual influences on mood and cognitive functioning. Challenging environments can cause disruption to sleep rhythms, increase depressive moods and interpersonal conflicts, and cause a decrement in work performance. In such environments the process of group conflict resolution when disagreements occur is particularly important. Previous findings of a decrease in in cohesiveness, social support, and work performance in an international mixed group points to the importance of maintaining adequate adaption and performance when working in a challenging environment (Stuster, 1999). Stuster (1998) found specific groups differ in the pathway to adaptive group functioning, and single vs. mixed-gender groups tend to function in different ways.

 

 

A pre-dominance of positive personality traits, including boldness (adventure seeking, social poise, emotional resiliency), and a low propensity for callus and emotionally dysregulated behaviour was found to be an excellent combination for optimal functioning in challenging environments, as long as these factors were not at the extreme of the trait dimension.

 

 

Previous studies (Leon et al, 2003) on teams of women operating in challenging environments found similarities in problem solving approach, respect for each other's opinions, and a collaborative process of decision making was evident. An all-female team who completed a long-range military patrol competition in the Brecon Beacons, a 2-woman team who crossed the Antarctic, and a group of 4 women, all from different countries, that engaged in a 6 week trek across Greenland found the most important factors in overcoming interpersonal difficulties and contributing to the successful completion of the expedition were mutual respect and motivation to maintain positive and supportive relationships. It was found women add an element of emotional support and help other team members that is not as evident in all-male groups. Such emotional support and the ability to confide in peers was found to be extremely important in alleviating interpersonal tensions and contributed to the generally effective functioning of the successful teams (Leon et al, 2003). Certain personality characteristics were consistently associated with coping, and individuals characterized by strong achievement motivation combined with interpersonal sensitivity were found to adapt better than others (Leon et al, 2003).

 

 

It was found individual resilience characteristics can override some of the detrimental effects of operating in challenging conditions. Training in the Brecon Beacons revealed a like-minded hardy group of female soldiers, highly motivated to test themselves and experience the challenges of working in a harsh and challenging environment. The positive experiences reported upon completion of the patrol competition focussed on aspects on group camaraderie, satisfaction in work performance, and enjoyment of the harsh environment.

 

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The well-functioning all-female team found positive events reflected camaraderie among members, positive feelings of self-efficacy, satisfaction in one's performance, and enjoyment of the environment. The coping mechanisms used to deal with stressors were also highly adaptive; cognitive strategies included identifying the meaning in the difficult situations one is dealing with, keeping a positive attitude, and focussing on problem solution.

 

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PTI Thompson: "Character cannot be developed in ease and comfort. Only through experience of trial and difficulties in unfamiliar environments can our characters be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Ultimately, it's all about everyday people achieving extraordinary things."

 

 

Implications for Teamwork

 

Practical lessons taught and learned in the unpredictable environment of a challenging expedition have direct applications to today's military environment. AT courses enable all ranks to practice leadership. Leadership can be learned even by confidence-lacking individuals who don't think they have a natural ability to lead. Soldiers and young officers alike can practice making decisions under stress, then reflect on their decisions and learn from the outcomes. In an expedition group, an individual can play four roles, often simultaneously: designated leader, active follower, peer leader, and self-leader. Effective teamwork rests on knowing how and when to step into each role. The practice of leadership also relates to getting along in a diverse group, cooperating with teammates, effectively resolving conflict, and keeping yourself and others motivated.

 
On expeditions, leaders often end up scrapping not only Plan A but also Plan B. Leadership involves planning for things you can control, letting go of things you can't, expecting the unexpected, and maintaining composure when unforeseen circumstances arise.

 

Conclusion

 

To conclude, it is understood that for Armed Forces personnel strong leadership, effective communication, adaptability and team working skills are vital. Controlled exposure to risk, discomfort and personal hardship is a common theme for both AT activities and military deployments. Through adventurous training, such skills can be taught and developed in challenging environments.

 

 

PTI Thompson: "Aim to be in a state of continual becoming. If we are to do anything worth doing, we must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger but jump at it with a focussed mind, enthusiasm, and sheer determination to see it through. The highest reward for our toils are not what we get for it, but what we become by it."

 

IMG_5944    A Happy Military Spouse Appreciation Day!

 

 

 

 

Appendix

The Classifications of Adventurous Training
There are 4 types of JSAT AT;
Type 1 JSAT is delivered as part of the syllabus when Service Personnel undergo Phase 1 or Phase 2 Training. Type 1 JSAT is utilised to enhance Service values and leadership requirements in addition to the individual attributes identified in the introductory paragraph. All personnel are to complete an introductory period of up to 5 days training in an adventurous environment during Phase 1 or Phase 2 training.
Type 2 JSAT is conducted as part of unit training and can be delivered at unit level, or by AT Centres. Type 2 AT may be conducted as either a multi-activity or single activity exercise. Where appropriate, JSAT Foundation qualifications are also delivered within T2 exercises as Distributed Training (DT). This may include an initial exposure at an introductory level, followed by the attainment of Foundation. Such qualifications, prior to achieving sufficient experience to enable an application to attend Leader courses.
Type 3 JSAT regards expeditions. An expedition is defined as a single activity conducted away from the unit for more than 48 hrs with the intention of achieving a specific objective (i.e. climb and summit a peak). This type of JSAT may also include the delivery of JSAT Foundation qualifications. It should be noted that whilst qualifications are delivered they remain a by-product.
Participation in JSAT
It is important to remind Commanders that the JSAT Scheme is intended to be progressive and allow participants to develop both personally and professionally. It enables individuals who are embarking on the Scheme to obtain experience at a Foundation level, enabling them to become competent under supervision before progressing further in the Scheme to obtain Leader and Instructor qualifications, subsequently enabling them to deliver AT for the benefit of other Service Personnel.
Individuals of all ranks looking for further information about AT courses should see their Unit Adventurous Training Officer (UATO). A UATO is appointed by a unit’s Commanding Officer to supervise the co-ordination of unit AT. Some of the UATO’s responsibilities include: producing a Unit AT Directive (UATD), promoting AT within the unit, maintaining a register of qualified leaders/instructors in the unit, ensuring that they maintain a logbook that proves the currency of their qualifications, maintaining a record of unit AT activities and participation levels, advising Expedition Leaders on the planning and conduct of type 2 & 3 AT. In particular, the completion of a JSATFA and other applicable documentation.
Funding Authorised JSAT
It should be noted that whereas AT is publicly funded, uniquely, type 3 is eligible for non-public funds and may be liable to personal contribution; personnel authorising JSAT activities are to ensure that there is clear delineation between the two sources. Funding is available from several sources and Service authorities are to provide direction and advice on the sources of funding available in their respective Service. The principal elements of Public Funding are CILOR and Travel & Subsistence (T&S). Additionally, Budget Holders may consider the allocation of further funds within resources.
The principles of funding include the following:
a. TLBs must secure sufficient funding through their own planning processes for their predicted AT activities.
b. For a single expedition the Service public funds contribution to an individual from their parent AT organisation must be equitable when compared to what other participants have received from their parent organisations.
c. The personal contribution levels should be equitable for all members of the expedition regardless of Service.
d. For JS activities, TLBs must agree the levels of financial support within the JSATFA process and for associated 2nd Party audit activity.
Personal Contributions to Adventurous Training
A personal contribution should not be required for the conduct of T1, T2 or T4 AT and, in principle, there should be no requirement for individuals to make a personal contribution towards their participation in authorised T3 expeditions. However, where the cost of a T3 expedition exceeds the finances available from Public and Non-Public funds, a personal contribution may be required for the expedition to remain viable.
Insurance
Activity organisers must fully understand the MOD’s insurance policy as it applies to AT, take advice if they do not, and make sensible arrangements for additional insurance should they believe there is a requirement.

 

 

Associations of Interest

 

 

Alongside meets throughout the year, the Army Mountaineering Association offers advice to AMA members planning expeditions within units, and offers a range of exciting AMA expeditions open to any serving Reserve or Regular AMA member regardless of rank.

 

 

 

References 

Schmidt L., Wood J. & Lugg D., "Team Climate at Antarctic Research Stations 1996-2000: Leadership Matters." Journal of Human Performance, 2004.

Anders Kjærgaard, Gloria R. Leon, Noah C. Venables & Birgit A. Fink, “Personality, Personal Values and Growth in Military Special Unit Patrol Teams Operating in a Polar Environment”. Dec, 2017.

Stuster J., "Human and Team Performance in Extreme Environments: Antarctica."  Society for Human Performance in Extreme Environments 3(1):117-20, October 1998.

Leon G.R & Sandal G.M (Nov, 2003), “Women In Isolated Extreme Environments: Applications for Long-duration Missions." Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 53, Issues 4–10, November 2003, Pages 259-267.

Jesper G Corneliussen, Gloria R Leon, Anders Kjærgaard, Birgit A Fink, Noah C Venables. "Individual Traits, Personal Values, and Conflict Resolution in an Isolated, Confined, Extreme Environment". Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance, June 2017, Vol 88 (6), Pages 535-543.

 

 

 

 

 

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