Defense Department Opens Combat Roles to Women

See photos of women who have already served oversees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Audrey Griffith, points out an area of interest during a force protection drill to Spc. Heidi Gerke along the perimeter of Forward Operating Base Hadrian in Deh Rawud, Afghanistan, March 18, 2013. Both women are members of the 92nd Engineer Battalion from Fort Stewart, Ga. (U.S. Army Photo)

All U.S. combat positions have officially been opened to women, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Thursday.

"We cannot afford to cut ourselves off from half the country's talent and skills," Carter said in a press conference.

While the military had opened over 100,000 positions to women in the past three years, special exemptions were given to positions in infantry, reconnaissance, arms and some special operations units, an estimated 220,000 jobs, which will now be available to qualified women.

In August of this year, two women Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, became the first to graduate from the Army's rigorous Army Ranger school.

Carter acknowledged that many women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan had already made sacrifices comparable to their male counterparts.

Click through to see women who have already been breaking down barriers for women in the military.

U.S. Army Master Sgt. Robin Harris visits with Afghan children who come regularly to the monthly Women's Bazaar at the International Security Assistance Force Headquarters, July 28. Harris, who has helped to organize the event since she deployed to Kabul in April 2011, was able to introduce her daughter, U.S. Army Spc. Heaven Faison, to the Afghan women and children at the bazaar when Faison visited ISAF Headquarters that day. (U.S. Army Photo)
Spc. Crisma Albarran, of Orland, Calif., detaches an ammunition case from its mount after a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flight over Iraq, March 14, 2010. Albarran with Task Force 38's B Company, 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, volunteered for the job as door gunner prior to her second deployment to Iraq, and has flown more than 100 hours toward her door gunner certification. During her first Iraqi deployment in 2007 she was a petroleum supply specialist with the 3rd Infantry Division. (U.S. Army Photo)
U.S. Army Maj. Megan Childs provides basic medical aid to a local Afghan woman as a part of Operation Spartan Stork. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Kristina Truluck)
Pfc. Anna Ciamaichelo unloads the FIM-92 Stinger missile she is about to fire. (U.S. Army Photo by Casey Slusser)
From left to right: Chief Warrant Officer 2 Elizabeth Kimbrough, Capt. Donna J. Buono, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Anne Wiley, and Capt. Carmel Cammack, all leaders within Task Force Palehorse, stand in front of an AH-64 Apache at their landing pads on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Stephanie L. Carl)
Maj. Ann Dunwoody was a Division Parachute Officer in the 82nd Airborne Division during Desert Storm. She was confirmed by Congress on July 23, 2008 for her fourth star, making her the first female four-star general in the U.S. Armed Forces. (U.S. Army Photo)
U.S. Army Sgt. Lidya Admounabdfany writes down information from a local woman at the Woman's Center near the Zhari District Center outside of Forward Operating Base Pasab, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, Dec. 17, 2011. Admounabdfany is a member of 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division's Female Engagement Team and is gathering information from women so the FET can distribute blankets and winter clothing to the women and their families. (U.S. Army Photo)
Capt. LeeAnn Roberts instructs Iraqi trainees and a coalition soldier on proper firing techniques at the Al Kasik Training Base firing range in Iraq. (U.S. Army Photo)
Staff Sgt. Claudia Caberoherbas provides perimeter security outside a village where troops search for a weapons cache in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province. (U.S. Army Photo)