In the early morning of June 16, 2018, Sgt. Brandon Antoine was rushed out of his Okinawa, Japan, barracks room as Marines ran through the halls carrying mattresses.
Antoine said he first thought base police were in the barracks doing a surprise inspection, but when he was told to take bring his mattress outside into the rainstorm he was simply confused.
“There were a lot Marines banging on doors, getting mattresses outside,” Antoine said.
Happening to like his mattress and not wanting it to get wet, the Marine, then a corporal, walked outside the barracks to see the cause of the commotion: It was a drunk Marine threatening to throw himself off a fourth deck air duct.
But Antoine’s quick actions that night kept the drunk Marine from jumping to his death.
For his heroism, Antoine was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the service’s highest noncombat award for heroism, and has been announced as Military Times’ 2021 Marine of the Year.
Standing outside in the rain, Antoine saw the drunk Marine, “hanging belly side down,” on an air duct.
“I saw they didn’t need any more mattresses, so I went to go see if anyone was trying to get the Marine … to aid him so he did not slip in fall,” Antoine said.
The drunk Marine had accessed the air duct through a fourth deck bathroom and had locked the door behind him.
When Antoine arrived on the scene, he saw two or three Marines trying to pry the door open.
“I told them, ‘Just pry it open get it cracked then I am going to kick it,’” Antoine said.
Soon, Antoine and the other Marines had broken into the bathroom.
Antoine then climbed onto the wet and slippery air duct to hold onto the Marine threatening to jump.
Two Marines who made it into the bathroom held onto Antoine to make sure he did not fall during the rescue.
“I just held out there until the fire department came,” Antoine said.
After around 15 minutes the on-base fire department arrived with a ladder and safely removed the drunk Marine from the roof.
“It was a whole battalion effort, everybody was there doing something I was just the one holding the Marine,” Antoine added.
‘I’m not trying to prove myself’
Antoine was born in New Orleans but moved to Atlanta in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina destroyed large portions of his home city.
Growing up, competition was instilled in the young Marine, who played of football for the Etowah High School Eagles in Woodstock, Georgia.
“I’m not trying to prove myself to anyone, I’m just trying to compete,” he said.
One day, when nearing high school graduation, Antoine said he heard a voice from God telling him to serve his country.
Within a week, Antoine went to the nearest recruiting office, unsure of which branch he would join ― until he saw the Marine recruiters.
“They were the loudest at the station, they were all in their dress blues,” Antoine told Marine Corps Times.
Shortly after introductions, the Marine recruiters challenged Antoine to a pushup competition.
From then on, Antoine only had eyes for the Corps.
In 2014 he signed a communications contract, attempting to get boot camp as fast as possible.
Though the career choice was almost an after-thought to the idea of being a Marine, Antoine fell in love with his job as an 0621-field radio operator.
That love was cemented when Antoine arrived at his first unit: the 7th Marine Regiment based out of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California.
“I love the real-world scenario,” Antoine said.
“I enjoyed working with snipers and grunts, going to their (integrated training exercises) and doing exercises with the other nations who come to Camp Wilson,” he added.
The infantry unit gave him plenty of opportunities to ply his trade in a realistic training environment and resulted in his first deployment to Kuwait in 2016 as part of Operation New Dawn, according to Capt. Benjamin Yoder, a spokesman for the 3rd Marine Division.
Still in love with the Corps after his first four years was up, Antoine enlisted and requested to go to the 3rd Marine Division in Okinawa, Japan looking for more professional development.
It was not long after he arrived that he found himself in front of his Camp Courtney, Okinawa, Japan, barracks watching a Marine threaten to kill himself.
‘It’s definitely a shared thing’
When Antoine first heard he was going to be awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions that night, he tried to refuse it.
“I honestly tried to deny it in any way that I could,” Antoine told Marine Corps Times.
He asked his command if the unit could be awarded in his stead, but was told no.
“It is definitely a shared thing with my name attached to it,” he added.
Antoine said the same about his selection as Marine of the Year.
“It brings recognition to everybody else who was there that night,” Antoine said of the award.
That humility echoed how Antoine talked about his time in the Marine Corps where he judged his success not on personal accomplishment, but in the development of those he is in charge of.
“I honestly do it for the Marines below me,” Antoine said. “My pride comes from their development.”
Antoine has already re-enlisted for a third time and is preparing to head to North Carolina.
Ultimately, he hopes to retire as a master gunnery sergeant after a long career in the Marine Corps.
“I want to stay in the Marine Corps as long as the Marine Corps allows us to continue our relationship,” Antoine said.