The Pentagon chief will announce on Thursday that he is eliminating the direct ground combat exclusion -- the Department of Defense policy that excluded women from assignment to units below the brigade level if the unit would be engaged in direct combat.
This will allow women to be assigned to select positions in ground combat units at the battalion level.
"I support it. It reflects the reality of 21st century military operations," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in anticipation of the announcement.
"We are moving in the direction of women as infantry soldiers," one senior defense official said. Panetta's decision mandates that the studies and reviews on women as infantry soldiers must be completed by October 2015 -- women soldiers will not be assigned to infantry any sooner than that, the official explained.
This announcement will open approximately 237,000 individual jobs to women across service branches, including 5,000 positions for female Marines in ground combat elements.