Today, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced to the media that he has opted to lift a ban that had been in place since 1994, allowing women to join combat, saying that "if they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve."
Those qualifications include standards for physical fitness, which Panetta said will not change.
The decision replaces a 1994 military policy memo signed by Les Aspin, a defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, that excluded women from assignments to units below the brigade level if the unit would be engaged in direct combat.
The change is expected to open 230,000 front-line positions to women.
The secretary said that there would be a review period for each of the armed services to see if there are any jobs that should be excluded. He wants recommendations on his desk by May 15.
But Pentagon officials said it might be next year before specifics are worked out and women can begin applying for the newly opened positions.