WASHINGTON (CN) - U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Thursday that every branch of the United States military must open its combat positions to women by April 1, 2016, with no exceptions.
At a press conference at the Pentagon, Carter said that for the first time in history, women will be able to serve in the U.S. military without any barriers in their way.
Since 2011, the Department of Defense has conducted extensive research regarding the laws and policies governing women in the Armed Forces. Until now, women have been restricted from serving in combat positions below brigade level due mainly to the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule.
The Defense Department rescinded the 1994 rule in 2012 and told all services to submit any special requests and plans they have for integrating women into previously closed positions by September 30, 2015.
According to a fact sheet released by the Pentagon, the services conducted over 30 primary studies and reviews in order to inform their decisions on how to implement the change in policy.
The Marine Corps was the only service to request a partial exception in roles such as infantry, reconnaissance, machine gunner, and fire support, which it requested despite the Secretary of the Navy's disapproval.
Carter dismissed the Marine Corps' request, declaring at the Pentagon press conference today, "We are a joint force and I've decided to make a decision that applies to the entire force."
Along with the Army, Navy, Air Force, and United States Special Operation Command, the Marine Corps is required to open all combat roles to women by April 1, 2016. There will be no exceptions, according to the Defense Department.
"[Women] will be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, lead infantry soldiers into combat. They will be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALS, Marine Corps Infantry, Air Force Parajumpers, and everything else that was previously open only to men," Carter said.
"And even more importantly, our military will be better able to harness the skills and perspective and talent that women have to offer," he added.