The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gays in the military expired at midnight. That means 13,000 people forced to leave the military under the old rules are now free to re-enlist.
However, one of them, former Air Force Maj. Mike Almy is choosing a different route: The former soldier, who served for 13 years before he was discharged under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, has chosen to sue to be reinstated.
When asked about the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," he said, "It's a little bittersweet."
He said, "It's obviously a tremendous step forward toward equality for all gay and lesbian Americans, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Americans. It's long overdue. It's obviously something that most of the rest of our allies have already (done), long-since changed their policies, and it's past time that we do this in America. It came a few years too late for me, as well as the 13,000 other Americans and tens of thousands of Americans before 1993, when this became a law."
Almy says he's suing to be re-instated, instead of re-enlisting, because of the limited opportunities now available in the military.
He said, "For people like myself who want to get back into the military, they have to be physically qualified, medically qualified, as well as the military still has to have a need for them. Retention is at an all-time high right now as a result of the economy. More people are staying in the military, which translates to (fewer) opportunities for people like myself who want to get in. .... We filed this lawsuit last year, last December, before repeal was finally enacted. So at the time, we weren't sure what was going to happen in the lame duck session of Congress last season."
LGBT Americans, Almy said, see the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as a historic milestone.
"Now, gays and lesbians can serve honestly and openly in the military with full integrity and have this 50-pound weight off their back," Almy said. "The constant fear that they could be fired any day if someone overhears a conversation or misreads an e-mail, that fear is now gone."
For heterosexual military service men and women, Almy said, the end of the policy will be "a non-event."
"Gays and lesbians are already serving there," Almy said. "In many cases, they're open about it and it's had no detrimental effect to the mission. If anything, it's enhanced the mission."
However, as "Early Show" co-anchor Jeff Glor pointed out, some gay rights groups say more needs to be done.
Almy agreed, saying, "This is, obviously, a watershed moment. We now have marriage equality in several states, New York, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and yet, as of today, you can have service members legally married in their state of residence and yet have no benefit, no recognition from the military, things such as health care insurance. If a military member was to go overseas, they couldn't take their spouse with them."