WASHINGTON — Michelle Janine Howard became the first woman to attain the rank of four-star admiral in the Navy’s 238-year history during a ceremony Tuesday at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus presided over the ceremony and 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, but also it is an historic first, an event to be celebrated as she becomes the first female to achieve this position,” 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 born of race, gender or religion, but of skill and ability.”
Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, noted Howard’s success through more than three decades of service. “Michelle’s many trailblazing accomplishments in her 32 years of naval service are evidence of both her fortitude and commitment to excellence and integrity,” he said. “I look forward to many great things to come from the Navy’s newest four-star admiral.”
Howard, who most recently has served as the deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, relieved Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson III as the 38th vice chief of naval operations Tuesday afternoon.
Howard is a 1978 graduate of Gateway High School in Aurora, Colorado. She graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982 and from the Army’s Command and General Staff College in 1998 with a master’s degree in military arts and sciences.
Her 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.
Howard took command of USS Rushmore on March 12, 1999, becoming the first African-American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy. She was the commander of Amphibious Squadron 7 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 2 from April 2009 to July 2010. In 2009, Howard deployed to the U.S. Central Command theater, where she commanded the Task Force 151 multinational counterpiracy effort and Task Force 51 expeditionary forces. In 2010, she was the Maritime Task Force commander for Baltic operations under 6th Fleet.
Howard was the USO Military Woman of the Year for 2011 and the NAACP Chairman’s Image Award recipient in 2013.