Outgoing US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta formally announced Thursday that the military's ban on women in combat roles will come to an end, allowing female soldiers to move into jobs previously closed to them, the BBC reported.
"Our military is more capable, and our force is more powerful, when we use all of the great diverse strengths of the American people" said Panetta, in comments before the official announcement, according to the Associated Press.
"If [women] meet the qualifications of the job, they should have the right to serve," he said at a news conference on the announcement.
Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey signed a document officially lifting the ban to light applause.
"Now, onward," Panetta said.
The change comes months after four servicewomen and the ACLU sued the Pentagon over the rules barring women from combat, arguing that it was unconstitutional.
Read more from GlobalPost: Women in combat ban lifted by Panetta
Foreign Policy wrote that the change was made after a recommendation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and will be fully implemented by 2016.
In February of last year, the Pentagon loosened some of its restrictions on women in combat, acknowledging that many servicewomen were already experiencing combat conditions despite the ban — but were unable to access the high-level promotions and jobs that would be open to them without the formal prohibition.
Read more from GlobalPost: ACLU, women soldiers sue Defense Department over combat roles
“It’s harming women in the field now,” said ACLU lawyer Elizabeth Gill of the combat ban.
“Our clients in this case have served in capacities where they’re shot at by enemy fire, they’re engaged, they’re attached to combat units.... They're fighting in exactly the same circumstances as men.”
In 2011, Panetta lifted the US military's controversial ban on gays in the military, allowing openly gay men and women to serve for the first time ever.
“This is an historic step for equality and for recognizing the role women have, and will continue to play, in the defense of our nation," Washington state Senator Patty Murray said in a statement on the decision to lift the ban.