WASHINGTON — Adm. Michelle Janine Howard became the highest-ranking female officer in the history of the U.S. Navy on Tuesday, when she was given a fourth star and assumed the role of Vice Chief of Naval Operations.
“Her accomplishment is a direct example of a Navy that now, more than ever, reflects the nation it serves — a nation where success is not borne of race, gender or religion, but of skill and ability,” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said during a ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, according to a Navy press release.
This isn’t the first time that Howard was a trailblazer. In 1999, she became the first African-American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy when she took command of the USS Rushmore, a dock landing ship.
She has also commanded Amphibious Squadron Seven from May 2004 to September 2005; Expeditionary Strike Group Two from April 2009 to July 2010; Task Force 151, a multinational counter-piracy effort, and Task Force 51, Expeditionary Forces in 2009; and the Maritime Task Force for the BALTOPS multinational exercise in 2010.
Howard served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as the chief engineer on board the USS Mount Hood ammunition ship. She was executive officer of the USS Tortuga landing dock ship while the vessel supported Operation Joint Endeavor, a peacekeeping effort in the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
Howard is relieving Adm. Mark Ferguson III as VCNO, the No. 2 officer in the Navy. She will be the first African-American to hold that position. She was previously the deputy Chief of Naval Operations for operations, plans, and strategy.
Howard graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1982. She also holds a Masters in Military Arts and Sciences from the Army’s Command and General Staff College.
She has received several prestigious awards given to women and minorities, including: the Navy/Navy League Captain Winifred Collins award; 2011 USO Military Woman of the Year; and NAACP Chairman’s Image Award.