They were young children? mere kids 18 years ago when the ban on gays serving openly in the military took effect.

But over two decades, attitudes shifted, America changed and these youngsters grew up, winning coveted spots to study in the top military academies. Now they're giving a collective shrug to the end of the "don't ask, don't tell" era.

The nation's military leaders of tomorrow say they have less preoccupation with the sexual orientation of their colleagues than generations before them _ and gay students are quietly reporting that a burden is being lifted that had weighed down those of same-sex orientation who went before them through the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy.