Men and women have been fighting face to face for centuries, but now they can officially fight side by side for the U.S.

At a Pentagon news conference Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta formally announced that he is lifting the ban prohibiting women from officially serving in infantry units. Female troops now can seek direct ground combat roles, a change that will allow women into more than 200,000 front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after generations of limits on their service, defense officials said.

The groundbreaking move overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units and front-line artillery, infantry, armor, special operations and para-rescue jobs, according to the Associated Press.

Panetta said women have become integral to the military’s success and have shown they are willing to fight alongside their male counterparts.

A great example: In late 2003, U.S. Army commanders in Iraq created a program that sent female support soldiers out on missions with all-male infantry units. They were the first women in U.S. history to be sent into direct ground combat in violation of federal policy. They were called Lionesses.

Last year, we featured a piece on the all-female battalion on The I Files, our investigative channel on YouTube. Watch this powerful video to take a look at war through their eyes:

YouTube video

Take note, however, that the transition won’t happen overnight: Military services have until January 2016 to implement the changes or seek special exceptions if they believe certain positions must remain closed to women. Panetta said not all women will be able to meet the qualifications to be a combat troop.

“But everyone is entitled to a chance,” he said.

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