Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will lift the Pentagon's ban on women serving in combat, according to several news reports — even though women actually have been serving in war zones for years"The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service," Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a January 9 memo, obtained by the Washington TimesPanetta made the decision to end the ban based on the memo. He'll announce the change Thursday, but not all positions will immediately be open to women, CNN reports. The decision comes less than two weeks after the Army began allowing women to become special operations pilots and crew chiefs. In November, four female military members filed suit to challenge the ban, which was instated in 1994. The lawsuit argued something many others have claimed — that women are already unofficially serving in combat, and that official exclusion prevents women from reaching the highest levels of the military.

Over the years, people have made silly cases against women in combat, but the prevailing argument seems to have been that women have less upper body strength than men — and so would have trouble carrying heavy rucksacks over long distances or wounded soldiers out of harm's way. But the U.S. isn't fighting trench warfare like it in World War II. It's fighting insurgencies. As the Center for American Progress argued last month, "Policies designed to keep servicewomen from the frontlines of battle cannot be enforced where frontlines do not exist." 

More than 130 women have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Women serve in most jobs in the military, including the more stereotypically macho positions, like drill sergeant, a job that involves spectacular feats of high-decibel insult comedy, often at wee hours of the night. In the photo above, that's Lt. Brandy Soublet, one of 45 female Marines assigned to 19 all-male combat battalions last summer.