Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, and acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning were among those who addressed several hundred service members attending a Pentagon event to mark Gay Pride.

It is the second year the Pentagon has held such an event after the repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” which prohibited gay troops from serving openly.

“Our nation has always benefited from the service of gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines,” Hagel said. “Now they can serve openly, with full honor, integrity and respect. This makes our military and our nation stronger, much stronger. … With their service, we are moving closer to fulfilling the country's founding vision, that all of us are created equal.”

Jarrett recounted stories she heard in 2010 from active duty gay troops and veterans who had been discharged before the policy had been lifted.

“I'll never forget the veteran who said he couldn't even be honest about who he was with his own family, because he didn't want to ask them to lie for him,” she said.

She described repeal as “one of the most significant civil rights accomplishments of the president's career.”

Fanning, who is openly gay, described life in the Air Force under “Don't Ask, Don't Tell.”

“It was a deeply conflicting time for me,” he said. “I was launching a career with strong support from amazing bosses who knew about my personal life. … I was being given opportunities that were being denied to people just like me. I was working for an institution that discriminated – against people just like me.”

“We are stronger for looking like the society we are charged with protecting, and we are today … the finest military the world has ever known.”