The Armed Forces Covenant is a commitment that no one who serves or has served in the UK military should be treated unfairly as a result. We take our commitment seriously at RIFT, and our Military Engagement events are a big part of that. We make a point of reaching out to the Armed Forces community, both to spread the word about what we do and to better understand their needs.

In September, we sent Armed Forces Support Team leaders Dan Nightingale and Tyler Eliot to the Leadership Experience Day at RAF Halton. At this month’s Military Engagement event, the RIFT team and a group of guests from the Armed Forces heard from Dan and Tyler about their experiences on the day, and what they brought back from it. Here’s what they had to say for themselves:

What were your first impressions of the Leadership Experience Event?

Dan: Well, to be honest, we went in with a few fears and expectations – most of which were quickly killed off. We got off to a slightly shaky start, admittedly. Honestly, even the bedding at our accommodation looked like a bit of a physical challenge at first. Also, we’d really expected to get shouted at a lot by formidable men with elaborate moustaches. The formidable men were certainly there, but our welcome was considerably warmer than we’d feared.

Tyler: We were actually greeted with much more respect and hospitality than the stereotypical image of “military life” suggests. We got a chance to learn about the history of RAF Halton, which was fantastic – plus, I got to try out a flight simulator!

How about the event itself? What did you make of the actual challenges?

Dan: Between the coveralls provided and the health and safety talks we were given, we felt we were pretty well prepared for the challenges ahead. What became clear very early on was that we were going to be tested on a whole range of levels, whether physical or mental. The next realisation was that none of us would be getting through these events on individual effort alone. One moment you’d be ganging up to help a six-and-a-half-foot rugby player through a web of netting, the next you’d be sitting at desks solving problems as a team.

Tyler: We got the point of this very quickly: communication was the key. The trouble is, there’s a world of difference between understanding why you’re failing and fixing the actual problem. That was sort of the theme for the day.

What particular problems did you keep hitting, and how did you overcome them?

Dan: The problem with group activities like this is that basically everyone thinks they’ve got a handle on how to “win”. Everyone thinks they’ve got the best ideas and should be in charge. It turns out that the person with the loudest voice isn’t always the best leader or problem solver – and when everyone’s shouting, everyone fails.

Tyler: What got us through those moments was understanding that communication under pressure is a whole skill in itself. I’d say our failures were actually more instructive than our successes in that respect.

What about the structure of the events? How did you feel it all came together?

Dan: The structure was basically amazing. We were learning things all the time, and the challenges built on each other in a really clever way. We quickly found ourselves applying lessons we’d learned on previous activities, even while we were learning new techniques. Every part reinforced the others – which was sort of the main take-away for me.

Tyler: Again, it was all a question of communicating effectively, especially when time is a factor. You can’t just bark out every idea that comes into your head in hopes of stumbling onto a workable solution. You’ve got to keep a clear head and clear communication at all times to succeed.

What key lessons would you say you’ve brought home from the event?

Dan: We’ve talked a lot about communication, but that really is the heart of it. It’s about so much more than giving instructions. One of the challenges was set up like a Star Trek bridge scenario. Each small group of people had its specific role, and we had two core goals: survive and protect friendly forces from attack.

Tyler: Within 5 minutes, it was clear that our focus was too narrow. We were keeping ourselves safe pretty well, but our allies were basically obliterated. We “won” the battle in one respect, but from a wider perspective, it was sort of a disaster. That really struck home.

Dan: Then there was the point, about half-way through, when all the screens went blank at a critical moment. It turned out that someone (mentioning no names) had been playing with the switches to find out what they all did.

Tyler: Some would say that inquisitiveness is a valuable – even heroic trait. Admittedly, there’s a time and place for everything…

Finally, have you seen any concrete results from applying what you’ve learned?

Dan: It’s early days yet, but already I’ve been seeing some positive things happening. Directly applying techniques from the event has been a significant, invigorating boost to our internal training methods.

Tyler: We’re getting fewer misunderstandings, for one thing. We’re getting clearer in how we explain things, and giving better information up-front so we have fewer questions once we’re in motion. In a strange way, communicating better as a unit is enabling us to act more independently in completing tasks. We’re solving a lot of problems before they’ve even arisen.

Both Dan and Tyler are keen to take part in more events like the RAF Halton Leadership Experience. Watch for more about RIFT’s Military Engagement events and our Armed Forces Covenant work.