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Antonio Agnone

Just Another Brave Marine

by Denny Meyer

There is something about marines that makes them WANT to be marines; and it has nothing to do with being gay or straight, it has everything to do with wanting to be among the elite best.

Every marine that I have spoken to, both enlisted and officer, had that same mentality, the same esprit even before they became marines, that drove them to join that toughest of services.  Well and good, there's a place in life for everyone, they just have to find it and dare to go for it.  But, what of gay people who join the Marines or any service for that matter?  ADF CPO O'Brien put it this way: "What of straight people?  There's no difference at all."  As SSGT Eric Alva, Col. Hank Thomas, and Lt. Agnone have demonstrated, these guys are no false stereotype of frail weak character.  On the contrary, to dare to join the Marines is in itself an ultimate self confidence and those gay people who joined are no different at all.  One is tempted to say that they are braver yet, but they all deny that; they are just like any other marine, they say.  They served courageously in battle in accordance with the MC credo, its expected of them, and they did not disappoint.  None could have made it through the rigorous training even to reach battle unprepared to go all the way.  The extra courage comes, perhaps, later, when they each have had the integrity to bravely come out.

In war battle, being gay makes no difference.  As a married straight WWII vet of the Normandy Invasion told me, "There were five gay guys in our unit on the beach that day.  And I want you to know, the German bullets did not discriminate.  We all took care of each other."

First Lieutenant Antonio Agnone, United States Marine, served nearly four and a half years before deciding to leave his beloved service in order to live freely as a gay man.  He'd been willing to sacrifice his life for freedom, but not to sacrifice living freely.

His grandfather had been a corporal in the U.S. Marines during World War II who had fought, as a mortar man in the battles for Okinawa and Palau.  Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, the oldest of seven children, Antonio Agnone had been reared to believe that you serve the country that provides for you.  He wanted to serve with the best, as an officer.  While in college, he contracted with the Marines and was in the OCS program from his Junior to Senior years and then went into active service.  He graduated at the top of his class from the Marine Corps Engineer School.  He earned  The Navy Marine Corps Commendation Medal, A Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medal, The Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, An Iraqi Campaign Medal, A Sea service Deployment Ribbon, and NDSM.

Under the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, when he signed up, he had to sign a statement that he did "not possess the propensity to commit a homosexual act."  Although he was uncomfortable with that, he did not really realize his inner identity until much later during his service.  The flaw of the policy, he said, is that it forces a lapse of integrity, it asks people to lie at least by omission, which contradicts the Marine Corps ideal.

More than anything else, he wanted to deploy and focused on that.  He had a platoon depending on him to be fully trained and ready to deploy together.  And so, when he met his partner, he came out to his parents so that they would be there for him should something happen to him during his deployment.  Within his family, this was accepted as the right and responsible thing to do.  For himself, Antonio Agnone had provided peace of mind so that he could do his job leading marines in a combat zone.  His sacrifice was isolation, keeping a distance from fellow officers and friends.  Still he took the risk of sending and receiving letters (his unit was too distantly deployed to have access to e-mail).  He realized that his fellow marines who handled the mail would see the regular letters from someone named Brandon.  It was not an issue for anyone; he and his troops were concerned only with keeping one other alive, he said.  With the constant combat stress of the potential for sudden injury or death; it is the letters from spouses that help deployments be successful.  An unintended consequence of DADT is the added isolation or risk of such letters for gay servicemembers.

What kind of United States Marine hero is Antonio Agnone?  Leading a platoon in the Marine Corpsí elite 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, he and his troops were doing an ordinance and weapons sweep along the Euphrates River.  Metal detectors had revealed a hillside full of enemy ordinance, RPGs, mortars, etc., all covered in palm branches in an area where there were no trees.  Each item had to be carefully moved and blasted.  At one point, one of his troops asked him to come and have a look at an  IED that was live and ready to be moved up the hill by insurgents to be emplaced in the road to explode American military vehicles.  Lt. Agnone had no way of knowing its triggering mechanism or whether a timer had already been set.  His immediate concern was for the safety of his troops if it were to explode where it was and set of secondary explosions from the other nearby enemy ordinance.  "So, I picked it up and moved it 200 meters away, as it was quickest way to make my marines safe. There was no time to decide to bring in the robots," he told me.  It is somewhat unusual for a Marine Corps lieutenant to be awarded a Marine Corps Commendation Medal, but that act of selfless courage was one of the reasons he did.  Antonio Agnone said he was simply taking care of his marines and "getting the job done."  When you think about such steel trap bravery, those words, that we often think of as mere talk, become very clear and meaningful. 
He was doing what marines are expected and trained to do.  He was committed to making sure all his guys got home safely.  This fellow is not Rambo; he's just another Marine.  Does his being gay have any relevance in any of this?  It was relevant only in that he had to himself arrange for his partner being supported, had that IED killed him.  America's armed forces take care of heterosexuals' families; but not gay families, which must remain hidden due to the pointless policy.  Courage, on the other hand, doesn't ask who is gay or straight.

And yet, unlike others, he could never let his guard down to be able to vent and talk about family to release the stress of combat.  It made things unnecessarily more difficult and could have affected his ability to react and see to the well being of his troops.  Clearly it did not, but it did result in a far longer decompression after he returned home.

Asked whether there were any incidents where he might have been suspected of being gay, he told me that it never became an issue; however, he said, some fellow Marines wondered about the club music he had in his ipod!  No one ever said anything, but there were 'looks.'  Oh my, I suppose his fellow marines didn't mind if he listened to Anastasia while carrying a bomb away from them!

Ultimately, he decided with his partner that he would not stay on for yet another tour of deployment under the same conditions in which he had to carry the burden of secrecy and his partner was excluded from the family benefits that his heterosexual colleagues took for granted.

Today, Antonio Agnone is dedicated to speaking out for those still serving who cannot speak up about the discriminatory DADT policy.  He is the point man for Human Rights Campaign's efforts to have the policy repealed.  His Legacy of Service campaign will visit cities across America, presenting the stories of those who have served courageously.  To find out more about that tour, please visit the HRC Legacy of Service website: http://www.hrc.org/legacyofservice/