Friday, June 15, 2007

‘Legacy of Service' Vets Speak Out against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (Part 2 of series)

Marine veterans Eric Alva and Antonio Agnone decided they no longer can remain silent about the discriminatory repercussions of the U.S. Armed Forces' “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Alva, a retired Marine staff sergeant who lost a leg in the Iraq War, told an audience in Des Moines on Tuesday: “I am a man who survived war, a man who survived a battle, only to come home to another battle, and that battle is for equality.”

Eric Alva (left) and Antonio Agnone (right) speak out against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in Des Moines

Alva was joined by Agnone and three other veterans (see below) as part of the Human Rights Campaign’s national kick-off of its “Legacy of Service” tour. The nation’s largest gay civil rights organization began its tour against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in Iowa because of the state's lead-off status in the presidential campaign. Tuesday's event was held at the Iowa Historical Museum.

Pictured from left to right: Eric Alva, Antonio Agnone, Alexander Nicholson, James S. Taylor, and Jarrod Chlapowski

Not only does the HRC want to repeal the policy by educating politicians and the public about the facts and adverse consequences, but it also wants to put a face on the campaign. Veterans directly affected by the policy enlisted in the “Legacy of Service” tour to share their personal stories and sacrifices to audiences across America.

Eric Alva, a 33-year-old leading spokesman for the campaign, was wounded on his first day in Iraq in March 2003. “I was on a logistical convoy when we entered Basra,” said Alva. “I was preparing an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) when I stepped on a land mine. I was thrown 10 feet and remained conscious through the whole ordeal. I had several injuries, including nerve damage, and my leg had to be amputated.”

Alva was the first soldier to be wounded in the war and the first recipient of the Purple Heart. Alva felt it was necessary to speak up against DADT. “It’s my obligation, moreover, it was my responsibility to the millions and millions of people in this country that deserve the same freedoms as everybody else. I fought for a nation that exemplifies to the rest of the world that we are a country of free citizens, and I was fighting for those rights and freedoms for everyone, all Americans and not just some. That is why I decided to come forward.”

In March, Alva sat alongside U.S. Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., as he introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R. 1246), which attempts to correct the discriminatory and unworkable DADT policy.

“The reasons why this policy is repealed are crucial,” said Alva. “Mine is basic. Mine is for the human rights and what I have sacrificed. Losing a leg in Iraq was something that will never be replaced. I tell people today that of the 3,500 people who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for the rights and freedoms for all citizens of our country, some of them are gay. And we must honor them.”

Agnone, now 27, comes from a long line of military service and earned his commission as an officer in the Marines out of a sense of duty to his country. “I think it’s one of the noblest things you can do.”

When Agnone was assigned to a combat engineer battalion, he knew he would be deployed to Iraq. “I was excited about the aspect of being deployed, because it would give me the chance to actively lead my soldiers in battle.” While leading his men in Iraq in 2004, Agnone’s primary goal was detecting and disabling IEDs (Individual Explosive Devices).

“The experiences of deployment are stressful enough, without having to deal with the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy,” said Agnone. “I remember the day that I was first shot at while standing on a roof in downtown Baghdad, while fortifying quarters for a place for my men to sleep that night.

“However, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ places an additional burden on gays and lesbians serving," he said. "While deployed in Iraq, I had been with my partner for three years, and what I did not realize is that there would be a lot of worries that would pop up while deployed. I didn't know, beforehand, that if anything were to happen to me, there would be no way of getting a hold my partner to let him know what had happened.”

Therefore, when Agnone returned from Iraq, he consulted his family and decided to end his military career by not re-enlisting. “I am one of the untold numbers of people who decided not to continue their service because of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ I very much would like to continue my service in the military, however, I cannot deploy again. It’s not fair to my family and the people I love.”

Click here to read Part I of the series, "Human Rights Campaign Launches 'Legacy of Service' Tour"
Click here to read Part III of the series, “Why America is Less Safe Because of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’”

No comments: