Local veterans who served during “don't ask, don't tell,” the military's 17-year policy ban on gays serving openly, expressed a variety of opinions on Wednesday's repeal of the law.
"It wouldn't bother me one bit," veteran Richard Choate said about the change.
Choate served in the Army from 1985 to 1999 and as a reservist from 2001 to 2005, including deployment during “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
"I feel like it's just discriminating if you're saying they can't serve, because they're volunteering to serve," Choate said.
Though some people stereotype that gay men are more feminine, "I put my life in their hands like they put theirs in mine," Choate said.
When he first entered the military in the mid 1980s, they would ask about sexual orientation, Choate said.
"I guess people lied about it," Choate said. "I've known several (gays) in the military and they work just as hard or harder ... [and I] didn't have a problem being in a tent with them."
What they do in their time off is their business, Choate said.
"It's almost like saying we can't give you a job because you're gay. It shouldn't have any bearing on serving your country," he said.
Peggy McQueary, who served in the EMT Corps in Korea, Panama and Fort Hood between 1987 and 1996, said she doesn't believe 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell” was much of an issue for those serving in the military.
“I don't think that it's such a big deal,” McQueary said. “I think civilians are more worried than military. I think the media is making a bigger deal (of it) than those actually serving.”
She said homosexuals serving in the military is nothing new.
“There's been gay people serving from day one,” McQueary said. “You don't know who they are because they don't really talk about it.”
Even situations where everybody sleeps in the same tent and men and women walked around in their longjohns, it was never a big deal, according to McQueary.
Though she said she is against allowing gays to serve in the military openly for religious reasons, as she is against allowing gay marriage, McQueary said she doesn't think much will change and there will continue to be a professional environment in the military.
“There's a code of honor in the military. You're taught to have your buddy's back, never leave a buddy behind,” McQueary said. “Even a weak guy who didn't run that good of PT [physical training] in the morning … you embraced him because he was part of your platoon.”
Army veteran Lonnie Johnson, who served from 1997 to 2006, including a tour of Iraq, said he thinks it's a mistake to repeal the policy.
“I think they should have left it in place,” said Johnson.
Though the military has relaxed over the years about gays serving, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell” gave a sense of security, Johnson said.
President Barack Obama signed the new law Wednesday that allows gays for the first time in history to serve openly in America's military.
Framing the issue as a matter of civil rights long denied, Obama said "we are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot ... a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal."
Repealing the policy in a ceremony that was alternately emotional and rousing, the president said "this law I'm about to sign will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend."
The new law ends a policy that forced gays to hide their sexual orientation or face dismissal. More than 13,500 people were discharged under the rule since 1993.
"I hope those ... who've been discharged under this discriminatory policy will seek to re-enlist once the repeal is implemented," Obama said.
"I hope so too," agreed Zoe Dunning, a former naval officer now with the advocacy group Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund.
"We are in two wars and we need qualified candidates," Dunning said after the ceremony. She said it was unclear how many discharged under the old law might seek to rejoin and whether all "have completely healed ... trust the military is going to treat them fairly."
The question of reinstating those previously discharged was addressed in a months-long study done by the Pentagon earlier this year on how the armed forces might go about implementing a repeal of don't ask don't tell.
The study recommended that the Department of Defense issue guidance to all the service branches permitting those previously separated on the basis of homosexual conduct "to be considered for re-entry, assuming they qualify in all other respects."
It said the fact that they were kicked out for gay conduct should not be held against them but added that if they received an "other than honorable" discharge for accompanying reasons, those reason should be considered.
A beaming Obama signed the bill at the Interior Department, a location chosen to accommodate a larger than normal audience for a bill signing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.