DIGGER Dean Walton had just agreed to return to the hell of war, signing on for a second tour of Afghanistan, when he received a phone call that changed his world.
On the other end of the line was an RSL Art Union official informing the soldier of 20 years’ service that he had won a $1.1 million home on the Gold Coast, a $60,000 BMW and $100,000 worth of gold bullion.
Mr Walton, who also served in East Timor, moved his family from South Australia to their new Reedy Creek home just before Christmas and admits it took some time to digest the news.
At the time he still considered returning to duty for an eight-month stint in Kabul until one of his superiors set him straight, telling him he was an “idiot” for not taking this once-in-a-lifetime chance to walk away from the army and be with his family.
“When I told my wife about going back she wasn’t very happy, she said, ‘I don’t have a good feeling about this’,” Mr Walton said.
“My eight-year-old son (Ty) was beside me when I called my boss to say I would go back to Afghanistan and he got quite upset.
“Two hours later I got a call that I won a house, so I called my boss to tell him, but said I was still happy to stay in the defense force. He told me I had won what everyone dreams of, that’s when it hit me.”
Mr Walton said he was “over the moon” after almost two decades in the army, during which he saw his family for as little as a few months of the year.
He even left for Afghanistan while his wife Natasha was six-months pregnant and only returned a week before their son Jacob was born in 2010.
He said spending six months in Afghanistan made him “realise how good Australians had it”.
“I always wanted to do Afghanistan for the experience; most people who join the army want to serve their country and get the job done,” he said.
“I thought I would be safer in the capital, but realised four weeks into it that wasn’t the case when there was an explosion barely a kilometer away.
“I wanted to believe it was construction, but knew what it was, especially when I looked in side mirror and saw a cloud of smoke.
“I hope people realise this Australia Day how good we have it here in Australia.”
Mr Walton said he had been entering the RSL Art Union prize home lottery for the past 12 years, direct debiting the donation money from his savings every month.
He said he was studying and planned to start an IT business, but was quite happy at the moment to be a full-time father and husband for the first time in his life.
To see the current RSL Art Union lottery – see www.rslprizehome.com.au/buy-tickets