An announcement Thursday by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifts the ban on women serving in combat.

Panetta said he believes women have become an integral part of the military's ability to succeed, but added that not everyone can meet the qualifications to be a combat soldier. He said the qualifications will not be reduced, and with women playing a broader role, the military will be strengthened.

President Barack Obama says allowing women to serve in combat marks another step toward the country's founding ideals of fairness and equality.

"Today, every American can be proud that our military will grow even stronger, with our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this country we love," Obama said.