In lifting the ban on women in combat, the Pentagon moved to adjust its rules to what long has been evident on the battlefield. Leon Panetta, the defense secretary, put it simply: “They’re fighting and dying together, and the time has come for our policies to reflect that reality.”

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared that his thinking began to evolve in 2003 as a division commander in Iraq. He hopped into his Humvee to find a woman in the role of turret gunner. In November, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of four service women. One is Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, an Air National Guard helicopter pilot, who was shot down, exchanged fire and was wounded in Afghanistan.

More than 800 women have been wounded in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. More than 130 women have died.

The landmark decision to remove the ban opens the way to equal opportunity for women in the military. Combat experience represents a well-worn path to higher positions and greater responsibility. Those doors have been all but closed to women. Now they have a chance to show what they can do and rise through the ranks along with men.

As Panetta and Dempsey made plain during their announcement last week, they want to act quickly to implement what they see as good for the military, the armed forces drawing on the range of talent available. It matters keenly that the change rose from within the Pentagon, those in uniform pushing things forward, the idea examined during the past year. So, too, is the likely ripple effect significant, the reality of women in combat widening opportunities elsewhere in the public and private sectors, helping to lower, and even remove, stubborn barriers still in place.

In that way, the decision echoes the welcome toppling of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” driven by experience, expanding equality in other realms.

Worth noting is the change doesn’t involve easing standards to gain a victory for gender equity. Pentagon officials have emphasized that women will be asked to meet the same rigorous qualifications as men in seeking positions in such areas as the infantry, armor, artillery and elite special operations, for example, the Army Rangers.

No question, men and women are different in many ways. That shouldn’t serve as an invitation to denying opportunities. Rather, the military should be looking to take full advantage of the skills a woman or man brings.

That is what doubters should keep in mind, including Jim Inhofe, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He has raised the possibility of pursuing legislation that would limit the combat jobs open to women.

The experience of Canada also may be useful. Since 1989, women have filled combat roles in the Canadian military. The concerns voiced on this side of the border have been tested and found misguided by the Canadian armed forces, women performing well in Afghanistan, even leading their own, American and other allied troops in combat.

The safe bet is, the American experience will be the same, the military and the country all the stronger as a result.