The Importance of ‘Dreaming Big – Well-being, Resilience &…

SSI Anna Smith's Story

The Importance of ‘Dreaming Big – Well-being, Resilience & Self Belief’

27 March 2024

  • Cambridgeshire ACF

This is Anna’s personal journey which she has chosen to share with the aim to Relate and Inspire. To relate to those that may be experiencing well-being issues, and give hope that they can turn things around; and to inspire CFAVs to complete the ACF online Healthy Minds Course, which gives awareness of how to spot signs of poor well-being and how to help.

Anna is second in Command at Huntingdon Detachment (Royal Engineers - Cambridgeshire), having joined the ACF 35 years ago as a Royal Anglian Cadet at Louth Detachment, Lincolnshire. She also gained experience with the University Officer Training Corps (UOTC) and as a CFAV with the Royal Fusiliers (Warwickshire) and Royal Anglians (Cambridgeshire).

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Anna as a cadet (left) 1998, and with UOTC, 1995

Anna is upbeat, has a great sense of adventure and is always looking for the next challenge. As a CFAV she says ‘I have always got the most satisfaction when instructing kayaking and navigation/expedition through Adventure Training or the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. I was also delighted when I was selected to accompany cadets to Malta, which enabled me to offer my skills and experiences to the expedition phase; having been an independent traveller who has backpacked to places as far afield as Australia, Vietnam and South America.'

Although Anna is outgoing and successful in accomplishing new things, in 2018 she took a knock to her confidence, which resulted in an extended period where she experienced a loss in self-belief and her normal positive outlook on life. The desire to attend cadets, and even travelling, diminished.

As CFAVs, we are aware of the benefits the ACF offers our cadets, but it is not always obvious how these benefits touch adults. Anna noted that ‘one of the ACF's Values - Loyalty – rang true, as ACF colleagues & friends offered support ranging from spending extended time with me, to giving me regular honest feedback on my performance as an instructor and occasionally touching base outside of cadets to check in.’ She noted that ‘the support from friends in the ACF, alongside support outside of the ACF, resulted in improving my self-esteem and I began to believe in myself again.’

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Sponsored cycling, Annual Camp 2023.

Anna started looking for the next set of challenges and adventures, but was also determined to help others who may experience poor well-being. Taking part in two challenges for the Charity Mind, whose message is ‘Join the Fight for Mental Health – No one should have to fight alone’, Anna raised an incredible £2,002. She also completed the ACF online Healthy Minds Course which she says is a ‘great introduction to the awareness of the range of well-being issues faced by Cadets, and potentially adults, with advice on what you can do to help.’ Following her passion for adventurous travel, she then embarked on a solo 18 day backpacking adventure thorough Argentina and Chile, where she completed a 2-day kayaking expedition, prior to visiting the remote Falkland Islands.

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Remembrance, Sapper Hill, Falkland Islands, 2023.

Reflecting on her travels, Anna noted that ‘sometimes solo independent travel can be extremely challenging – there were cancelled flights, difficult border crossings and my military friend who I was due to meet in the Falklands had work priorities change, so never made it out there!’ Not surprisingly, as a result, Anna noticed her independence increase and resilience develop further, which in turn increased self-belief - all skills important for healthy well-being.

Anna is taking these learning experiences back into the ACF in different forms. She noted ‘travelling gave me time to reflect and made me realise the importance of self awareness, independence, kindness at work and the courage to follow your dreams to make you happy. However, I guess the most subtle gift from my experience, is that I have noticed I am able to spot the telltale signs of those struggling with their well-being and I am not afraid to reach out’.

Anna is particularly keen to encourage cadets’ resilience - a skill that she believes is paramount to healthy well-being in today’s society, where cadets have had to deal with COVID19 and the ongoing pressures of social media. For example, she recently implemented a volunteer ‘no phone policy’ at detachment, an initiative successfully implemented by Raleigh International to improve resilience and young peoples’ well-being. Further, on annual camp, she applied a ‘kind’ approach to ‘work’ when instructing cadets who were anxious about kayaking.

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Kayak Instructor, Annual Camp 2023.

Anna’s efforts have been recognised not only by the ACF but also by the British Army, and she was subsequently awarded the Commandant’s Coin and The Army Sergeant Major’s Coin for ‘Professional Excellence’. She had citations from Major Parry and RSMI Power RE who noted that her selfless dedication, extreme patience and subject matter expertise were successful in convincing extremely anxious cadets to participate in kayaking, which was outside their comfort zone, thus fulfilling the aims of adventurous training activities and enhancing the Cadet Experience.

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Receiving awards (left) & Army Sgt Major's Coin.

Anna said ‘receiving the awards evidenced that good things can come from adversity, resilience can be learned, and you can work hard to overcome difficulties to become the best version of yourself.’

Anna’s achievements both in and outside of the ACF continue to grow, and she is optimistic about her future and that of our organisation. Going forward, Anna’s focus is to pursue more advanced adventure training qualifications and complete her Level 2 course in Understanding Children's and Young People's Mental Health – her goal is to become the best outdoor instructor she can be, whilst ensuring she is best placed to support cadets with any well-being issues. She is also exploring other opportunities within her Company and County. Whatever she decides, we can be quite certain many more adventures await her.

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Mind challenge, cycling 300 miles in a month.

As a parting message Anna said ‘If you are struggling, remember feelings are not permanent and with hard work and the right support, including that provided by the ACF, you can turn your life around.’ Also, she set a challenge to readers. ‘I challenge you to answer these questions …. would you spot the telltale signs of someone struggling with poor well-being; and would you be comfortable to reach out to them and know how to best help? If the answer is no, then please sign up for the ACF online Healthy Minds Course, which will give you the confidence needed to help others and potentially save a life.'

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Left, training with colleagues, 2011.

If you feel you need some support or want to seek help for others, you can turn to Kooth, who provides support in partnership with the ACF, or the charity Mind.

Anna will shortly give presentations on her adventures – ‘The Falklands – Dream Big – Freedom – Independence – Resilience – Reflection’. The key message will be to inspire cadets to believe they can achieve their dreams and the importance of building resilience and learning to reflect, enabling personal growth. If you would like to learn more please email Anna directly on 3957smit@armymail.co.uk.

Text by SSI Anna Smith and SI Doug Stuart

Prmotional video for Anna's Falklands Presentation.