U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced Thursday he was lifting a ban on women serving in combat roles in the military.
"The department's goal in rescinding the rule is to ensure that the mission is met with the best-qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender," he said in a statement.
The decision was met with near-universal praise. The decision means women can serve in most combat roles provided they meet the necessary requirements. Women had previously served as pilots, medics and security guards to the military's top officers.
The Defense Department notes that women make up about 15 percent of the U.S. military's 1.4 million active-duty personnel.
A survey by the Pew Research group before Panetta's announcement indicated 30 percent of women veterans who enlisted after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States served in some form of combat or war zone. That's compared with 7 percent before the 1990s.
The findings are based on a survey of 1,853 military veterans conducted last year. Pew reported a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points and advised caution when interpreting the results because of the small sample size.