First Woman to be 4-Star Admiral Had Key San Diego Role

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In March 1999, Michelle Howard made history at San Diego Naval Station as the first African-American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy — the amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore.

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Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, left, and Wayne Cowles, husband of Adm. Michelle Howard, put four-star shoulder boards on Howard’s service white uniform during her promotion ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Peter D. Lawlor
Tuesday in Arlington, Virginia, Michelle Janine Howard made history again when she was promoted to four-star admiral — the first woman of that rank in the 238-year history of the Navy.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus presided over the ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. He administered the oath of office.

“Michelle Howard’s promotion to the rank of admiral is the result of a brilliant naval career, one I fully expect to continue when she assumes her new role as vice chief of naval operations,” Mabus said.

“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.”

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of Naval Operations, said: “Michelle’s many trailblazing accomplishments in her 32 years of naval service are evidence of both her fortitude and commitment to excellence and integrity,” said “I look forward to many great things to come from the Navy’s newest four-star admiral!”

Howard, now deputy CNO for Operations, Plans and Strategy, will relieve Adm. Mark Ferguson III as the 38th Vice Chief of Naval Operations (VCNO) Tuesday afternoon.

In 1999, Howard told Time magazine: “Someday, sure, there’ll be a woman CNO. It will happen of its own accord.”

A 1978 graduate of Gateway High School in Aurora, Colorado, she went on to graduate from the Naval Academy in 1982 and the Army’s Command and General Staff College in 1998, with a masters in military arts and sciences.

Then-Vice Adm. Michelle Howard in 2012. Image via Wikimedia Commons
Howard’s initial sea tours were aboard USS Hunley and USS Lexington. While serving on board Lexington, she received the secretary of the Navy/Navy League Captain Winifred Collins award in May 1987. This award is given to one woman officer a year for outstanding leadership.

She reported to USS Mount Hood as chief engineer in 1990 and served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. She assumed duties as first lieutenant on board the USS Flint in July 1992.

In January 1996, she became the executive officer of USS Tortuga and deployed to the Adriatic in support of Operation Joint Endeavor, a peacekeeping effort in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Sixty days after returning from the Mediterranean deployment, Tortuga departed on a West African training cruise, where the ship’s Sailors, with embarked Marines and U.S. Coast Guard detachment, operated with the naval services of seven African nations.

She took command of USS Rushmore on March 12, 1999, at the 32nd Street Naval Station becoming the first African-American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy. Howard was the commander of Amphibious Squadron Seven from May 2004 to September 2005.

Deploying with Expeditionary Strike Group 5, operations included tsunami relief efforts in Indonesia and maritime security operations in the North Arabian Gulf. She commanded Expeditionary Strike Group Two from April 2009 to July 2010. In 2009, she deployed to CENTCOM theater, where she commanded Task Force 151, Multi­ national Counter­piracy effort, and Task Force 51, Expeditionary Forces.

In 2010, she was the Maritime Task Force commander for BALTOPS, under 6th Fleet.

She was the 2011 USO Military Woman of the Year, and the 2013 NAACP Chairman’s Image Award recipient.

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