Navy’s First Female Four-Star Admiral

Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Michelle Howard (photo: Peter D. Lawlor, U.S. Navy)

Admiral Michelle Howard has again made history for the U.S. military.


The first African-American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship and to hold a three-star rank among all the armed services, Howard was promoted last week to four-star admiral.


The promotion made her the first woman, and first African American, to climb so high in the Navy. She now holds the second most important post in the Navy, as vice chief of naval operations.


During her promotion ceremony, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Howard’s achievements demonstrate “how far we have come, and how far she has helped bring us.”


Howard’s pioneering status caused a slight glitch in preparing for the ceremony—she was initially unable to order the correct insignia. “I said, ‘I need to order a four-star women’s shoulder board,’ and there’s this silence,” Admiral Howard told The New York Times. “Then the lady goes, ‘Um, I’m not seeing any in the system.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I thought that might be the case.’ ” A contract was let and Howard got the correct shoulder boards.


Howard’s career has included serving as the head of Task Force 151 and its efforts to stop Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. She was responsible for overseeing the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, the commander of the MV Maersk Alabama who was captured by pirates in 2009.


Howard graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982, only eight years after women were first admitted to Annapolis. She is married to a retired Marine.


She is not the first female four-star officer in the U.S. military. That distinction is held by Army General Ann Dunwoody, who retired two years ago. The Air Force also has had its own female four-star general: Janet Carol Wolfenbarger, who received her promotion in 2012.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Adm. Michelle Howard Becomes First Four-Star Woman in Navy History (by Dan Lamothe, Washington Post)

Leadership Lessons from Admiral Michelle Howard, the Highest Ranking Woman in Naval History (by Kathryn Dill, Forbes)

A Four-Star Female Admiral Makes History for the Navy (by Elena Schneider, New York Times)

First Woman to Lead a Military Academy (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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