DENVER (CBS4) – Female veterans in Denver are reacting with enthusiasm to the announcement of one of the biggest policy changes in U.S. military history.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced on Thursday the Defense Department is officially lifting its ban on women serving in combat. Panetta’s order makes women eligible to serve as infantrymen on combat patrol and even in elite special operations units like the Navy SEALS. However, women will have to meet strength standards that could keep them out of units where the physical demands are especially grueling.

The move will open up thousands of positions for females on the front lines.

“I think it’s amazing. It’s an honor,” said Maj. Taunya Ford, a 15 year army veteran who lives in the Denver area.

Ford says the new policy eliminates some of the barriers women traditionally faced.

“I’m sure that women will make us proud and I’m sure we’ll look at this later and say what took us so long,” Ford said.

Women have served in combat positions before, but have never been recognized. Now more than 200,000 new jobs will open up to women.

“It means perhaps one day if I were to have a daughter, there’s not going to be that ceiling like there was for me,” Denver-based Capt. Treka Henry told CBS4.

Integration into special forces like the Navy SEALS and Green Berets has not been fully worked out, but Ford says the policy will allow military women to finally compete on an even playing field.

“I was excited because I’ve been in the game and I’ve been in units that were all men and people looked at me and actually asked me what I’m doing here when I’m just as good as them,” Ford said.

Some jobs will open up this year. The military has until 2016 to make a case that some jobs should still be restricted to women.

“My desire comes from not wanting to be better than a man, but being better at serving my country. And if I can beat the men while I’m doing it, I’ll take that, too,” Ford said.

MORE FROM CBSNEWS.COM: Panetta to lift ban on women in combat


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