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.
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.
Leading a platoon in the Marine Corps elite 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, Anrtonio 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. 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."
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.
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. So finally Antonio Agnone left the US military in 2007 because of the Pentagon's anti-gay policy.
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.