What 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' Repeal Means for Servicemembers

It was the tears of Marine Captain Sarah Pezzat, whose nickname in the military is “Short Shot,” that put a human face on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and what it’s repeal means for the estimated 65,000 gay members of the military currently serving.

On Capitol Hill today she said before a bipartisan group of Senators: “I’m 31 years old. I’m a woman. I am a Marine,” and this is where she chokes back tears, “and I’m a lesbian.” She then says, “I’m sorry… Prior today if I said that I could be discharged.”

More than 14,000 gay servicemembers were over the past 18 years since President Bill Clinton signed the policy into law.

The repeal meant a lot to servicemembers, such as former Air Force Major Mike Almy, who served for 12 years and then was forced out during his 4th tour of the Middle East while serving in Iraq. He is in the process of trying to reenlist.

"I still have quite a few friends in the military who are looking forward to this day. Some of them will come out some won't,” Almy told Fox News on the eve of the repeal. “I have a good friend named Todd. He is currently serving on active duty. Tomorrow he will not make a big announcement, but he is going to go to work and he will put a picture of his partner on his desk.”

Navy Lieutenant Gary Ross and his partner Dan Swezy were so eager to celebrate the repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” they flew from their home in Arizona and got married shortly after midnight in Vermont.

The Marine Corps Times published this provocative cover story last week in anticipation of today's repeal: "We're Gay, Get Over It" read the headline. It was especially ironic since Marine leaders and Marines canvassed in combat were the most concerned about the repeal and had warned about the dangers that it would cause to those in combat units.

The Marines now appear to be the most eager to implement the letter of the law, according to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, who expressed pride in the decision today.

"It's the right thing to do. It's done. We need to move on,” Mullen said in his last Pentagon press conference. He retires in two weeks but it was his testimony on Capitol Hill that gave momentum to repeal the ban when he said that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” harmed the force’s integrity.

Today Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz tweeted:

"DADT was dishonorable and un-American, and we celebrate today as it officially becomes a relic of the past."

The President issued the following statement:

"As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love.

And the Obama 2012 Campaign highlighted the President's role in today's repeal in a 6 minute video posted on its website.

Under the pseudonym JB Smith, Lt Josh Seefried, published the magazine OutServe profiling gay servicemembers, which today will be made available on select Army and Air Force bases. He proudly announced he was gay and revealed his real identity at midnight.

Those who were forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation can reenlist, but there is no guarantee their service will take them because recruiting is up now that the economy is bad.

Also left unresolved are benefits for same sex partners. They won't receive them because the military will not recognize those partnerships since the federal defense of marriage act remains the nation's law. Those partners won't be allowed to live on base while the service member is deployed and they won't have access to family support groups.

The Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Senator Carl Levin said he would ask the Pentagon to help those who were expelled for being gay.

“The first thing we're gonna do is talk to the military as to what steps we now need to take to undo some of the wrongs that have been perpetrated,” Levin said on Capitol Hill today. But so far the Pentagon does not plan to fast track the reenlistment of those who were discharged under the law.

Not everyone welcomed the changes at the Pentagon today.

"This is not a legitimate victory for anyone; it is being imposed on the armed forces to deliver on President Barack Obama's political promises to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) activist groups,” wrote Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness, one of the principal advocacy groups fighting against repeal. “The high-powered campaign for gays in the military was fueled by sophistry, administration-coordinated deception, faux "research" from LGBT activists, and misuse of the military's own culture of obedience.”

But for the thousands of gay servicemembers who were forced to live a lie for so many years while they served the nation, today was historic.