Panetta opens combat roles to women

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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.

Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

Women make up more than 14 percent of the 1.4 million active military personnel and more than 280,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Combat Exclusion Policy had previously barred women from serving in approximately 238,000 positions, many of which prepare them for more advanced assignments later in their careers. The situation created a significant talent drain and retention problem.

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