Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that the repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” marked a “historic day” for the nation and the military.

The military policy that banned gay and bisexual troops from serving openly ended on Tuesday, nearly 18 years after its implementation and 9 months after Congress authorized its repeal.

“Thanks to this change, we moved closer to the goal of the foundation of values that America's all about: equality, equal opportunity and dignity for all Americans,” Panetta said during a press conference.

“This is an historic day for the Pentagon and the nation. As secretary of defense, I'm committed to removing all barriers that would prevent Americans from serving their country and from rising to the highest level of responsibility that their talents and capabilities warrant. These are men and women that put their lives on the line in defense of this country – that's what should matter most.”

Mullen, a proponent of repeal, agreed, saying that because of repeal, “we are a stronger joint force, a more tolerant joint force, a force of more character and honor.”

Gay men and lesbians in uniform can tomorrow go to work and “be able to do that work honestly,” he added.