FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Combat roles were officially open to women on Jan. 24, by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Women have already been serving in combat zones with men for years. However women, who have been serving in the military since the late 1700s, have never been allowed to officially participate in ground combat.

Since 1994, Department of Defense policy (Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule) prohibited women from being assigned to a direct ground combat unit below the brigade level. It allowed women to serve in certain positions by exception but now women will be given full rights to those once closed positions.

Simon Constable, Wall Street Journal columnist, interviewed Lt. Col. Kareem P. Montague, commander of the 1st Battalion 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment in the 18th Fires Brigade, via Skype Jan. 24 to discuss Panetta's decision. Montague said it has been a long integration process.

The artillery branch has recently opened up to females and he now has three female platoon leaders.

"When the bullets start flying, you don't have time to worry 'is this a female Soldier or a male Soldier at your 6 o'clock,' you look out for each other," said Montague after Constable asked him if men being protective of women would affect their performance on the battlefield.

Capt. Tina M. Paton, S4 for the 330th Transportation Battalion, agrees with Montague. "If women meet the standard, it should not be an issue," she said.

"Female Army officers can and are serving in many branches in the Army such as military police, artillery, or transportation. In each of those branches, women are required to be on the front lines. If you are a female in a leadership position in a transportation unit, you will most likely lead a convoy," said Paton. "Many people do not think of this as serving on the 'front lines' but so many of our servicemembers are being killed by improvised explosive devices while traveling on convoys," she added.

The new integration process began in February 2012, when Panetta modified the 1994, DoD policy, Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, that opened up over 14,000 jobs for women. Although women have been serving in these combat roles for years, this decision opens the door for more opportunities. This is a step in the direction to fully integrate women into these positions, but the integration will not be complete until Jan. 1, 2016. Each service will have until May 15, 2013 to implement their integration plans.

Although the process has started, there are still many questions, issues and challenges leaders must debate. For example, now that women are allowed to serve in infantry units, what will happen to the standards? Will there just be one standard or will it will be dependent on gender? How will the units handle the integration process?

As debates continue over women's role in combat and what it means for them to participate in front line combat, it's important to remember that in the two most recent wars the United States has fought, over 280,000 women have served in combat zones where there is very little distinction between front lines and rear support -- and they served with distinction.