Defense chief announces all combat roles will open up to women

The Pentagon will now open up all combat roles in the military to women, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced on Thursday.

"This means that as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before," Carter said at the Pentagon's press briefing. "There will be no exceptions."

The historic decision comes nearly three years after then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta directed that all positions become open to women by January 1, 2016.

Less than one month before that deadline, Carter said he made the decision after receiving recommendations last month from the secretaries of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Special Operations Command, who agreed that all positions should be open to women.

"They'll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat," Carter said. "They'll be able to serve as army rangers in green berets, navy seals, infantry, air force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men."

Carter said the Marine Corps had asked for a partial exception, but he made the decision to override that request because he said, "We are a joint force."

Before the change, Carter said the military had only opened up 111,000 positions across the services to women. The announcement will open up the remaining 10 percent, or 220,000 positions, to women.

This comes after women have fought for decades to have a much more integrated and equal role in the military compared to their male counterparts. In 1975, the military service academies were opened up to women and in 1993, the military allowed women to begin flying fighter jets and serve on combat ships at sea.

"Our force of the future must continue to benefit from the best people America has to offer. In the 21st century, that requires drawing strength from the broadest possible pool of talent," Carter said. "This includes women because they make up over 50 percent of the American population."

  • Rebecca Shabad

    Rebecca Shabad is a video reporter for CBS News Digital.