After the Army discharged him 17 years ago for a heart condition, Anthony Todd Saxon so desperately wanted to keep serving that he bought a combat uniform and fooled troops at Fort Gordon and his family into believing he remained in the ranks.
Saxon, 36, insisted Monday he meant no harm when he went to the base last year and posed as a master sergeant, saying he was driven by a lifelong desire to serve his country that got cut short after just three years when the Florida National Guard dismissed him in 1994.
"I want to apologize for dishonoring the U.S. Army by impersonating a soldier," Saxon said at his sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Augusta. "It's a very big issue to me. It was very hard for me to let go."
Despite delivering a lengthy apology, Saxon was sentenced to four years and nine months in federal prison.
Judge Dudley Bowen said his chief concern was the assault rifle and several other guns, plus military training grenades, found at Saxon's home in nearby Keysville. Saxon had a 1996 felony conviction for grand theft in Florida, and prosecutors said authorities had warned him in 2005 that he couldn't legally own weapons because of his record.
Saxon was arrested in June and pleaded guilty in January to impersonating a soldier, possession of firearms by a convicted felon and possession of a silencer stolen from a local gun shop.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Inman said interviews with Saxon and psychological tests ruled out initial fears that he planned a "Fort Hood scenario" to harm soldiers at Fort Gordon or that he was "just a crazy individual." Inman told the judge he suspects Saxon was posing as a soldier to steal military hardware and sell it.
"I don't believe misguided patriotism was the source of his criminal actions in this case," Inman said. "I think the source was a profit motive. He loved this country and loved the Army so much that he decided to lie and steal from the Army."
Saxon wore an Army combat uniform with the rank and insignia of a master sergeant at least 10 times last year to Fort Gordon, home of the Army Signal Corps and one of largest military hospitals in the Southeast. During one visit, according to court records, he convinced a soldier to give him a laser-targeting sight for a rifle.
The FBI determined Saxon was never employed at Fort Gordon, either as a soldier or a civilian.
Inman noted authorities suspect Saxon may have had a live anti-personnel mine at the time of his arrest, though a bomb squad blew it up before investigators could get a close look. Explosives charges were dropped as part of his plea deal, along with counts of theft of government property, theft of a firearm, illegal possession of a rifle with a shortened barrel.
The sentence Saxon received is far less than the maximum 23 years in prison allowed for the charges he pleaded guilty to.
Time he's already served in prison since his arrest, nearly a year, will count toward his sentence.
Saxon's family pleaded for mercy. His father told the judge that Saxon had known almost since he was born that he wanted to be a soldier.
Saxon's wife, Rhonda Saxon, said she had forgiven her husband. When Saxon was arrested, prosecutors said, she and other family members believed Saxon was about to deploy overseas to Afghanistan.
"He's a good person," she told the judge. "His love for the military is absolutely crazy. That's all he dreams about and thinks about every day."