Old Blokes Get Forcefully Developed at Fairbourne
Article by Chf Techs Des Nichols and Jeff Buxton
In February 2007, 10 blokes who were past the first throws of adulthood went to Force Development Training Centre (FDTC) Fairbourne to find out more about themselves. This was part of the drive by the Nimrod MRA4 Integrated Project Team (IPT), based at British Aerospace Warton & MOD Abbeywood, to develop its Service people ready for the challenges of the brave new world. You may think that a team with a collective age of about 400 years would already know as much about themselves as was possible and, if you’d asked me prior to the trip I would have agreed. Hindsight is a funny thing though, and as the Force Development training at Fairbourne is all about challenging preconceptions, by the end of the week any cynical views held by this bunch of crusty old SNCOs were, if not dead, fatally wounded.
Prior to departure, the aims of the week were summarised in ‘punchy statements’ on the application form (available from the FDTC Fairbourne website) & admin order and included things like, “Promote understanding of leadership and teamwork concepts through practical training”, and, “Develop courage by overcoming new and intimidating team and personal challenges”. In reality, given the nature of the job we do, I suspect there is something of a boy scout in all of us and most, if not all, are willing to challenge themselves given the chance.
To minimise the impact back at work the guys were split into 2 groups of 5. Group 1 arrived on the Sunday and finished on the Wednesday and Group 2 arrived on the Tuesday and left on the Friday.
Once at Fairbourne, both mornings were taken up by classroom work namely Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI). SDI helps people to identify their personal strengths in relating to others under 2 conditions; when everything is going well and when faced with conflict. It classifies people into categories symbolised by colours, red being single-minded and task-oriented, blue being a caring, sharing type and green symbolising a planner/ thinker. This makes for an ideal tool to understand what makes a good team. Whilst this ‘touchy feely psycho mumbo jumbo’ maybe of little interest to all you ‘iron-pumping,’ super-fit, RAF Active readers, it did set the scene for the afternoon’s more physical activities, high ropes and mines, and proved to a man that the wisdom of experience can always be expanded.
I think the best way to describe the trip is to sneak a peek at the diary of a Group 2 member…………..
Diary of a Group 2 member
Following the arrival brief from the Duty PTI and afternoon tea and cakes, it was time for kitting. Relying on years of experience we adopted a cautious approach, consciously not trusting the admin order which stated that all AT kit would be provided. Consequently, we found ourselves with enough kit for a Himalayan trek. Note to self: should we go again, sod experience and just believe that all kit is provided by Fairbourne.
We prepared for the character-profiling of SDI. Despite previous experience of similar exercises all group members actively participated. These exercises revealed some home truths about all our characters. We all noted what colour SDI had annotated to us and some banter was enjoyed at the expense of one of our team who, we discovered, fell between all the colours in the Hub! Dinner was a carry-out of packed ‘lunches’ which we took with us on the short mini-bus ride to the ropes. On de-bussing we took a short stroll and were greeted by the comforting sight of a 12x12 tent. Whilst the instructors decided on which death trap to play on us, we wandered around the various high/low rope obstacles and viewed the now infamous telegraph pole.
The anticipation for what lay ahead was steadily rising. Our first man readily scrambled to the top in a relaxed and professional manner. Unfortunately, as the top approached, fear and the thought of imminent death overcame him and the big man froze. Fortunately, after some caring support and gentle persuasion he leapt from the top into the wild blue yonder and entered the Hall of Fame of Pole Jumpers! The next man started off fine, but once again as the top of the pole got nearer the anxiety and nervous tension got the better of him. His grip of the pole got tighter and tighter – he had frozen too! Again team spirit saved the day and after some colourful and descriptive encouragement he took the leap of faith. The rest of the group had now been shown how to complete the task and remaining ascents were completed in a cat-like manner.
The next task was the parallel rope walk which involved climbing a 200 ft giant redwood. The instructors had a slightly different view, insisting that the tree was in fact only 30ft! It had parallel wires linked to a platform on an adjoining pole. Our first 2 lucky participants struggled to get more than 3 inches across the wire before spectacular failure resulted in them falling off. On the other hand, our second duo were born to rope walk and they completed nearly ¾ of the wire before they eventually succumbed to gravity and fell – an awesome job! Still exhilarated from our achievements, we packed up and headed home in time for tea and medals.
The morning was spent back in the classroom with the culmination of SDI profiling. We found out the colours that we adopt under conflict and we were shocked to learn that one of our normally mild-mannered individuals was in fact a walking time bomb! Lunchtime saw the now familiar routine of packed lunch and a 20-minute minibus ride away from HQ. Once changed into our ‘mining’ gear we yomped up a Welsh mountain to find the entrance to the mine. The previous week’s rainfall had created a lake within the mine’s entrance that was waist high. The mission was to enter the mine with no light source and navigate in the dark, locate parts of a torch and assemble it. A homing device was provided to aid the search for torch parts. We headed into the mine, line astern, heading into the unknown. All thoughts of ‘walnuts’ in the freezing cold water were forgotten, as the team felt their way around the rocky walls hindered by the pitch-like darkness. With the hypnotic pulse of the homing device aiding our quest, we eventually located the torch parts and the cave was illuminated. It was an exhilarating experience and we learned a great deal about trust and communication.
Back at Fairbourne the fashionable mining attire was returned to stores and dinner was taken, or rather demolished. Another relaxing evening was spent in the local vicinity, as there isn’t anywhere else to go!
This morning we headed for home after breakfast with precious memories of all we’d learned at FDTC Fairbourne. We all agreed that reflecting on these experiences will be a lifetime’s work, at least partly shaping our futures in one way or another!
This has been a slightly light hearted view of our trip, but it’s fair to say that everybody who went gained something valuable and overcame some of those personal challenges alluded to on the application form, a fact borne out since we’ve been back at work by the many conversations which have been hijacked by experiences from Fairbourne. I believe that the interactions between team members have significantly benefited, proving that time spent away from the coal face was time well spent.
I’d like to finish by saying thanks to the staff at Fairbourne for tailoring the normal Force Development week of training by squeezing the activities into just 2 full days, as requested by the IPT, and for making our stay so memorable. Investigations into organizing our next trip have already started. Remember this is a free Service resource. All you need to pay for is transport to get your people to and from Fairbourne. All necessary equipment is provided, so take a look at the RAF Intranet site www.raf.r.mil.uk/live/FDTC/Fairbourne.htm or contact 01341 250927 for details of what FDTC Fairbourne could do for your team.