LANHAM, Md.– On Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to announce his decision to reverse the ban preventing women from serving in military combat roles.

The decision opens up hundreds of thousands of front-line positions. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended the change, which reverses a 1994 rule banning women from smaller ground combat assignments.

In November, four servicewomen and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Pentagon and Panetta over the combat exclusion policy. ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Ariela Migdal says the lawsuit argued that women were already serving in combat roles, but not getting recognition for it.

“Our nation has been educated about the fact that women are out there. They were serving in the small combat outposts, they were hiking the same distances and, when fired upon, they had to shoot back,” she said

The landmark decision gives the military services three years to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

“There were 238,000 positions closed to women no matter how qualified they were for those positions,” Migdal said. “What remains to be seen, I guess, is … is this going to open all of them?”

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