WASHINGTON - Senior defense officials say Pentagon chief Leon Panetta is removing the military's ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war.
The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units.
Lt. Colonel Cathy Van Bree said she is glad to see this day finally come.
"I would have liked to have the opportunity to have that consideration maybe 20 years ago when I first joined, more options is always better," Van Bree said. "There may be some resistance to it. I've heard some already. But the reality of it is, and I think as the war in Iraq and Afghanistan has gone on for so many years, the reality of a linear battlefield just no longer exists anymore."
Kenny Cooper -- 40 years retired from the Marine Corps and now serving at an American Legion Post -- said there might be a few challenges, but he believes women are well trained, just as men are, to get the job done.
"When they go in to serve their country... it doesn't matter if it's a woman or a man," Cooper said. "It's just, everybody's the same to me."
Van Bree said there was a time when military men were apprehensive at the thought of women in combat, but times have changed.
"Sometimes I think they feel that they need to be able to help that person out more if they are female versus another male," she said. "But I think after we've had so many years in Afghanistan and so many years in Iraq, men treating women more equal or equal to them is more common nowadays."
Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.