Some plan to re-enlist. Others want to turn to the fight for same-sex marriage. Still more will celebrate a triumph of civil rights.
But for many of those kicked out of the U.S. military for serving while openly gay or being "outed" as gay, Wednesday's repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy means more than a political victory. They say it will strengthen the armed forces.
The policy has led to more than 13,000 discharges since it was instituted 17 years ago, including 59 Arabic and nine Farsi linguists the Pentagon fired between 2003 to 2008 while the U.S. fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Service Members Legal Defense Network.
"A house divided against itself was what we were living under. There's really only one enemy, and that's the one we're fighting against -- not each other," said Jonathan Hopkins, who was discharged from the Army in August after serving nine years.
Hopkins, 32, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where cadets live by an honor code: "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do."
After President Barack Obama signed the law in Wednesday's ceremony, he and others kicked out of the service are celebrating an end to the lying, especially in cases where soldiers could not fully grieve the death of lovers killed in battle.
"I didn't have relationships of consequence, I was so paranoid. Then when I was outed, everyone said we already figured you were gay anyway, and everyone told me it didn't matter, you were the best commander we ever had," Hopkins said.
Former Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, 29, was an Arabic linguist, and he was discharged last year after coming out during a television interview. On Wednesday he planned to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to retrieve his West Point graduation ring.
"I gave it to him the day after I was discharged from the military," Choi said. "He took it with the condition that he'd give it back after the bill was signed. My ring finger has been essentially naked the entire time I've been discharged so it's very gratifying to come on back."
"My bottom line feeling of where we go from here is I want to get married," said Choi, who is attempting to re-enlist. "If I can die for my country, then I think I can be validated in my love relationship. If President Obama wants to say that all are created equal, then he can say that marriage is for all people."
Obama urged soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who had been discharged to re-enlist.
Dan Manning, 30, of Wichita, Kansas, who was discharged in 2007, said he would gladly rejoin the military if given the chance.
"To be quite honest, I've got to get back into shape," Manning said with a chuckle. "But once I've done that, I certainly will re-enlist."
Former Air Force Staff Sergeant David Hall, 36, who comes from a military family, lamented how he was forced to shroud details of his personal life from his fellow airmen.
"If people asked questions, I was vague. You never got to be totally honest. You always had to think about what you were saying," Hall said.
Now Hall is speaking up loudly.
"I'm going to be talking to the Air Force about my options and how do I go about (getting back in). I'm Air Force all the way."
(Reporting by Aman Ali and Chris Michaud; Writing by Daniel Trotta; editing by Greg McCune)
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