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Leon Panetta salutes gays in the military (VIDEO)

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta thanked gay and lesbian members of the military for their service.

Panetta salutes gays in military june 15 2012Enlarge
Joseph Martinez, an active duty sailor in the Navy, prepares to march during the San Diego gay pride parade July 16, 2011 in San Diego, California. This year, the Pentagon will hold its first gay pride event. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saluted LGBT members of the military on June 15, 2012. (Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images)

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta thanked gay and lesbian members of the military for their service on Friday, according to the Associated Press.

Panetta said, "As we recognize Pride month, I want to personally thank all of our gay and lesbian service members, LGBT civilians, and their families for their dedicated service to our country," according to MSNBC.

He continued, "Before the repeal of 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,' you faithfully served your country with professionalism and courage. And just like your fellow service members, you put your country before yourself. And now — after repeal, you can be proud of serving your country, and be proud of who you are when in uniform," according to The Washington Post.

The message comes nine months after the policy that led to more than 13,500 service members being forced out of the armed forces was repealed, said the AP.

More on GlobalPost: The Pentagon will hold its first-ever gay pride event

Gay and lesbian service members no longer have to hide their sexuality and can join advocacy groups and attend functions with their partners without fear of being outed, said the AP.

Last month, Panetta said the repeal had not affected morale or readiness of the military, according to the AP.

OutServe, an association for actively serving LGBT military swelled its ranks since the repeal, going from 1,700 members to 5,700. John Seefried, a co-director of OutServe and an air force lieutenant, said of the Pentagon recognizing pride month: "This is a tremendous accomplishment to be happening not one year since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," according to the Guardian.

Here is Panetta's message to the troops:

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/120615/leon-panetta-salutes-gays-the-military-video