Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will lift a nearly two-decade ban on women serving in combat roles, according to reports on Wednesday.
Women have officially been forbidden from serving in ground combat units since 1994, so the move marks a major shift in the military's policy for female service members. But women, who make up 15 percent of the U.S. armed forces, have often found themselves on the front lines of dangerous combat zones during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2011, Univision News profiled a group of 19 women who are part of the Female Engagement Team while training at the Fort Irwin National Training Center in California. The unit's main purpose is to interact with Afghan women, who traditionally do not speak to men outside their family, for counterintelligence purposes.
"Sometimes the men, they see us as 'why are the females part of the infantry now?' But for them, they are starting to realize we're an asset to them," said Sgt. Scarlett Martinez, a member of the South Carolina Army National Guard, to Univision News' Satcha Pretto.
The Pentagon's decision means that women will now be able to serve in combat units and gain the experience necessary to be promoted to the highest ranks of the military.