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Army May 26, 2011
By Maj Haydn Barlow
STANDING in a theatre in front of
500 Townsville-based soldiers on
the cusp of deploying to Afghanistan
was far from Dannielle Kitchen's
plans a year ago.
Instead she imagined she would be
preparing for the return of her fiancé
from his eight-month deployment and
planning for their wedding.
But only a couple of months after
leaving for Afghanistan, Cpl Richard
Atkinson was killed by an IED, throw-
ing Dannielle's world into turmoil.
In the weeks after Cpl Atkinson
died, Dannielle found herself having
to answer questions she had no answer
for and making decisions for which
she was not prepared.
"Being widowed at such a young
age, I wanted to make this tragedy
easier for any other spouse or family
that has to go through this, which I
hope will never happen," Dannielle
told the full theatre of 2RAR soldiers
at Lavarack Barracks on April 27.
"Akka tried to keep most of the
administrative preparation to him-
self. He didn't want to involve me too
much and honestly I didn't want to
know about it.
"I didn't know too much about
what his role was. I compared it to
Being prepared is crucial
Have a plan: Dannielle Kitchen talks to soon-to-deploy 2RAR soldiers
about the importance of preparing for the worst.
Photo courtesy of the Northern Services Courier
Hurt Locker when he made me watch
it, but then when it was finished he
said it was nothing like that. I knew he
found IEDs and that was about it."
Cpl Atkinson had been thrust into
a new job, late in pre-deployment
phase, the result of a well-earned, but
Dannielle said it was an impor-
tant time for her and Cpl Atkinson
and stressed the importance of family
inclusion and open communication to
help ease the burden both soldier and
"He was extremely nervous and
I was concerned about his stress, but
without fully appreciating what he did,
it was hard to understand those stresses."
The focus of Dannielle's message
was on the importance of completing
the mountain of paperwork soldiers
complete before they deploy.
"While it might seem tedious at the
time, or soldiers may not want to think
about it and what it means, those docu-
ments, especially the will, are what we
as spouses are left to deal with in those
awful days after death," she said.
"And they are final. Their impact is
forever. It is just so important to think
it through and get it right."
Dannielle says that co-locating the
documentation and making sure it is
accessible once the soldier deploys
is also important. She likened it to a
"All I wanted to do was grieve, but
I needed to find copies of the will and
other paperwork. This became frustrat-
ing, stressful and painful.
"Luckily DCO was able to source
most of this for me as Akka had
lodged it with them before he left."
Within hours of being notified of
Cpl Atkinson's death, Dannielle was
being asked to think about how she
would like to approach the inevita-
ble media focus that would be thrust
upon her and Cpl Atkinson's family.
She was told the next couple of weeks
would be very public but the Army
would help guide her through the
"Matt (1CER CO Lt-Col Matt
Pearse) asked me to consider writing a
statement for the media and to provide
some photos to remember Richard by.
"While at the time I did not want
to do it, I now understand how impor-
tant this was to ease the pressure from
the media and of course tell the world
what kind of person my Akka was."
While nothing could ease the pain
Dannielle and other families of those
soldiers killed in action would go
through, she made it clear that it was
very much a personal responsibility.
"Akka's main concern for me if he
passed was that Defence wouldn't look
after me. In every aspect they have
proved him wrong. I have been cared
for by Defence more than I thought I
would be. They truly have my back.
"But of course none of that support
will help if the soldier has not prepared
and thought of his family beforehand.
"This is why I am asking all sol-
diers, wives, husbands and family
members to ensure you are prepared
because unfortunately our loved ones
are going to war and they might not
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