Defense Secretary Ash Carter has approved final plans to integrate women into all military positions.
With his approval, the services and U.S. special operations forces can now execute their plans to open all previously-closed positions, occupations, specialities, career fields and branches to women right away.
“Having reviewed their exceptionally thorough work, I am pleased all of the services developed plans that will effectively carry out this change and make us even better in the future," he said.
In a post on Medium published Thursday, Carter said it was important to keep opening up all jobs to women "in perspective."
He said since December, women servicemembers have started to volunteer for ground combat roles, and the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps are all beginning to step up their recruitment efforts.
"But even as we proceed with implementation going forward, it won’t all happen overnight, and while at the end of the day this will make us a better and stronger force, there will still be problems to fix and challenges to overcome. We shouldn’t diminish that," he said.
"At the same time, we should also remember that the military has long prided itself on being a meritocracy, where those who serve are judged not based on who they are or where they come from, but rather what they have to offer to help defend this country," he said.
The Army said initially it would take a "leader first" approach, allowing female officers to branch as infantry and armor officers, followed by female enlisted soldiers, to ensure they have leaders.
Under the new policies, all soldiers will have the opportunity to serve in any occupational specialty based on their individual capabilities and the needs of the Army, it said in a statement.
"We're not going to turn our back on 50 percent of the population," said Acting Secretary of the Army Patrick J. Murphy. "We are opening up every occupation to women. I think that's pretty historic."