U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is set to lift the military's longstanding ban on women serving in combat, the Associated Press reported today (Jan. 23).
The decision, expected to be formally announced Thursday, was recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and would overturn a 1994 rule that kept women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units, according to the AP.
Officials had been gradually loosening restrictions on women in the military's front lines. Last year, about 14,500 combat positions were opened up to women after policy changes, such as eliminating the "co-localization" rule, which barred women from positions localized with direct combat units.
Experts who weighed in on the issue last year told LiveScience that many women are be capable, both physically and mentally, of performing just as well as men in combat roles. Many women were already serving in positions that put them in as much danger as jobs on the front lines, while others had been attached, but not formally assigned, to combat units.
"They can serve as transportation personnel. They can be military police," Ryan Kelty, a sociologist specializing in the military from Washington College, said at the time. "They might not be the ones knocking in the door, but they are standing right next to the man who is. Women can do those jobs and they can do them well."
Panetta's decision would make more than 230,000 jobs available to women, according to the AP, and armed forces will have until January 2016 to assess whether women should be kept out of certain positions. Sources told the AP that some jobs could open up to women as soon as this year, while assessments for other positions, such as roles in the Navy SEALS, could take longer.