1. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks during a news conference in London in 2011. (Photo via The Associated Press)
  2. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday lifted a decades-old ban on women serving in direct combat roles in the military. “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 E. Dempsey said in a memo dated Jan. 9 and obtained by The Washington Times.

    Here are some basic things to know about the state of women in the U.S. military up until the groundbreaking end of the ban.

  3. Female U.S. military personnel take part in a discussion in preparation for deployment to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield in 1991. (Photo via the Defense Visual Information Directorate)
  4. Women make up roughly 15 percent of active-duty military.

  5. As of Sept. 30, 2011, women made up 14.6 percent of active-duty personnel. The Air Force had the most women, with 63,552, or 19.1 percent; the Marine Corps, the fewest, with 201,157, or 6.8 percent.
  6. Women have already been serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  7. U.S. Army Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester speaks about her experiences as a woman in combat after an unveiling of the Raven 42 exhibit at the U.S. Army Women's Museum in 2007. (Photo via U.S. Army / Sergeant Gina Vaile)
  8. Because of the changing nature of combat, many women have already essentially served on the front lines. Since 2001, more than 140 women have been killed in combat in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  9. In 2011, a military commission recommended ending the policy.

  10. The Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommended allowing women in combat, arguing that the exclusion policy kept them from being recognized for their combat experience and hurt their chances at promotion.
  11. Four servicewomen sued to overturn the combat exclusion.

  12. Colleen Farrell, a U.S. Marine Corps First Lieutenant, speaks during a press conference Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, in San Francisco. Several active women military personnel have filed a federal lawsuit to allow them to serve in combat roles. (Photo via The Associated Press / Ben Margot)
  13. Four women, each of whom had served in Afghanistan or Iraq, filed a lawsuit in 2012 against Panetta, arguing the combat exclusion policy was unconstitutional and outdated.
  14. The decision opens up many more jobs to women.

  15. Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Heidi Dean, left, and interpreter Khatira Fazli teach a health class to Afghan women during a health initiative in 2011. (Photo via U.S. Marine Corps)
  16. Ending the combat exclusion rule could potentially allow female service members in as many as 290,000 jobs, mostly in the Army and Marine Corps infantry. Last year, the Pentagon lifted some restrictions on women in the military, opening up about 14,000 jobs closer to the front lines but still not including infantry, armor and special ops units.
  17. Most Americans support allowing women in combat.

  18. A 2011 poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News found that 73 percent of respondents supported giving women direct combat roles and 25 percent opposed.
  19. The Army has already tested combat uniforms designed for women.