Michelle Howard: Navy's first four-star female admiral a trailblazer (+video)

Michelle Howard has set many firsts during her 32-year career and was involved with the famous operation to free the crew of the Maersk Alabama from Somali pirates.

By , Staff writer

Michelle Janine Howard on Tuesday became the first woman to rise to the rank of four-star admiral in the Navy’s 238 year history.  She received her fourth star at a ceremony held at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The Navy lagged other services in promoting a woman to four-star rank. Both the Army and Air Force had previously done so.

Admiral Howard has been credited with a number of firsts in her career. In 1999, she became the first African-American woman to command a ship in the US Navy. That distinction came when the US Naval Academy graduate took command of the USS Rushmore, a dock landing ship.

Along with her fourth star, Howard was named vice chief of naval operations, the second-ranking uniformed person in the Navy. She becomes the first African American and the first woman to hold that position.

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As The Washington Post noted, one of Howard’s most notable assignments was commanding Task Force 151, which oversaw counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. The 2013 movie “Captain Phillips” told the story of how Navy SEALs rescued Captain Richard Phillips, the top officer on the cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama, who had been captured by Somali pirates. Howard helped devise a plan to free Captain Phillips. The SEAL team eventually shot and killed three pirates who were holding Phillips on a small lifeboat.

At her promotion ceremony, Howard’s boss, Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert, noted that “Michelle’s many trailblazing accomplishments during her 32 years of naval service are evidence both of her fortitude and commitment to excellence and integrity.”

After Navy Secretary Ray Mabus struggled to pin Howard’s new four-star shoulder boards on her uniform, the Post noted that she joked about his troubles in her remarks to the crowd, drawing laughter. “It is a remarkable sign of leadership,” she said, “to be persistent in your goals and to achieve them.”

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