Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is expected to make a bold move Thursday with an announcement that the military's ban on women in combat will be lifted.

The Associated Press broke the news Wednesday (January 23) based on reports from anonymous defense officials who briefed the news organization ahead of Thursday's announcement. According to the report, the changes will be gradual, not immediate, but the military will have to develop plans for allowing women to seek and apply for combat positions.

The changes could lead to openings for women as early as this year, but will take longer for special operations forces like the Navy SEALS and the Army's Delta Force, who will have until January 2016 to make a case for why certain specialized positions should not be opened up to women.

We can expect a flurry of reactions to the news when the ban is officially lifted, but the reports of the big decision already have the Internet abuzz with very diverse and passionate reactions. One early supporter is famed sex therapist Dr. Ruth, who once served in the Jewish paramilitary organization called the Haganah, which later became the Israel Defense Forces. "Women are going to go into combat w/US forces. Since I was sniper in Haganah (Israeli freedom fighters) I'm all for that," she tweeted.

This decision, which the New York Times termed "groundbreaking," overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule that restricted women from artillery, armor, infantry and other such combat roles, even though women have inevitably found themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, where more than 20,000 have served. The AP story explained that although women were prohibited from being assigned to ground combat units, the necessities of war in Iraq and Afghanistan saw many women taking jobs as medics, military police and intelligence officers, all of which sometimes ended up being attached to the ground combat units.

An official who spoke with the AP said the goal in lifting the ban is to maximize women's service in the military and that the leaders of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force laid out three principles to guide the military chiefs in making the changes: They are obligated to maintain America's effective fighting force; the process will give all service members the best chance to succeed; no matter what changes in personnel occur, they will preserve military readiness.

What do you think about this change? Let us know in the comments.