The Pentagon will declare Thursday that it is lifting a ban on women serving in combat — a decision essentially rendered a fait accompli by more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, where many women served ably under fire. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to make the announcement, based on a recommendation from Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The historic change will open up hundreds of thousands of jobs in infantry, armor and other previously all-male units from which women have been formally barred under a 1994 Pentagon rule. Ultimately, they could even be allowed to serve in special-operations units, including the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s SEALs.

Women who missed the opportunity to serve in combat cheered the change. “All jobs should be based on qualifications, not gender,” says Battleland contributor Darlene Iskra, the first woman ever…

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