Upon unanimous recommendation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced the end of the direct ground combat exclusion rule for female servicemembers. It is expected that this change will ensure that the best qualified and most capable servicemembers, regardless of gender, will be available to carry out the mission.  In order to meet this directive, military services will undertake an evaluation of all occupational performance standards to ensure they are up to date and gender-neutral; the results of this evaluation are to be submitted to the defense secretary by May 15, while the entire process is to be completed by Jan. 1, 2016.  Once the policy is fully implemented, military occupations will be closed to women only by exception, and only if approved by the defense secretary, a senior defense official said.  The expansion of combat roles for women in the armed forces is likely to lead to an increase of female servicemembers and veterans in North Carolina, and a subsequent need for supportive services both during and after deployment.

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