Defense Sec. Panetta Makes Official What Female Soldiers Have Longed For

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An historic change for the U.S. Military is now official.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Thursday lifted the ban on women serving in combat, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.

READ MORE: New York Millionaire Robert Durst Found Guilty Of Best Friend Susan Berman’s Murder

With the stroke of a pen Panetta broke down the barrier between men and women in the military.

“If they’re willing to put their lives on the line, then we ought to recognize that they deserve in any capacity that they want,” Panetta said.

There are more than 200,000 women in the military — some 15 percent of the force — mostly in the Army and the Marines. Until now about a quarter of the jobs in the military have excluded women, and lifting the ban won’t necessarily give women preference. Qualifications for each post will not be reduced. Women will have to earn their spots.

“Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier but everyone is entitled to the chance,” Panetta said.

Here in New York, Zoe Bedell, a captain in the Marine Corps Reserves who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, cheered the move to remove to so-called “brass” ceiling.

READ MORE: Caught On Video: Carmine's Hostess Attacked After Asking Tourists For Proof Of Vaccination

“It’s great. You you feel like a second class citizen when you’re told that you can’t serve in certain jobs and to have that removed and to feel that now I’m a real contributing member of the institution is a real step forward,” Bedell said.

Most of the combat jobs will open to women on May 15, but senior commanders will have until January 2016 to seek exemptions.

“It has to be implemented. It has to be phased in and the service chiefs have an opportunity to request that certain jobs remain closed, but we hope everything will open up things. This will include the infantry jobs, artillery and even things like intelligence,” Bedell said.

“The numbers speak for themselves. Over 130 women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan; 800 women have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) said. “This will break down the doors of opportunity to them.”

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he thinks lifting the ban will have another benefit — reducing the number of sexual assaults on  women soldiers

Dempsey said the sexual assault problem is due partly to the military class system — male “warriors” versus the rest of the force.

MORE NEWS: Body Cam Video Shows Aftermath Of Argument Between Gabby Petito, Fiancé Weeks Before Her Last Call To Family

Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …