(CBS News) - The U.S. Military is making one of the biggest policy changes in its history. CBS News learned Tuesday the Defense Department is lifting its ban on women serving in combat. The official announcement will come Wednesday from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
Panetta's order will make women eligible to serve as infantrymen on combat patrol and even in elite special operations units like the Navy SEALS. However, women will have to meet strength standards that could keep them out of units where the physical demands are especially grueling.
Combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have already cost more than 130 women their lives and left more than 800 wounded.
Some, like Dawn Halfaker, were on the front lines commanding a Military Police Platoon in Iraq, where she lost her arm fighting alongside of the infantry.
"There's not a big difference at all, in many of the missions we did with infantry. We were with artillery units, we were all fighting the same fight, doing the same thing," Halfaker said.
The best machine gunner in Halfaker's platoon was Victoria Rivers, who was tapped to go on missions with Special Forces.
"Working side by side with Special Forces, it was pretty cool," Rivers said.
But Rivers acknowledges some military jobs may be too demanding for women.
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