WASHINGTON (AP) — The Army is opening the door for women to go to Ranger school, in one of the first steps toward allowing women to begin moving into more grueling combat jobs.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Friday that he believes he will be able to put women in the Ranger course next spring.

While completing the leadership course would let women wear the coveted Ranger tab, it does not let them become members of the Ranger regiment. Currently only men can be in the 75th Ranger Regiment — the special operations forces unit based at Fort Benning, Georgia. Joining the regiment requires additional physically, emotionally and mentally challenging schooling.

Women can now begin volunteering for the course and will also be asked to serve as advisers and observers.

By January 2016, the military must open all combat jobs to women or explain why any must remain closed. The Pentagon lifted its ban on women in combat jobs in 2012, but gave the military services time to gradually and systematically integrate women into the male-only front-line positions.

Special operations jobs are some of the last to be addressed, as commanders review the qualifications needed and assess the impact of bringing women in.

Military leaders have made it clear that they will not reduce standards for any jobs in order to let women in.