Arlington National Cemetery witnessed a momentous ceremony on Tuesday: The United States Navy’s promotion of Michelle Howard to the rank of four-star admiral. Howard is the first woman to achieve that rank in the U.S. Navy’s 238-year history.
The 54-year-old African-American will also become the Navy’s second-highest ranking officer by relieving Adm. Mark Ferguson III as the 38th Vice Chief of Naval Operations. Prior to the promotion, Howard was the deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans, and strategy.
“It is an important coincidence for me,” wrote Howard on the Navy’s official blog in reference to her appointment ceremony being so close to the nation’s upcoming Fourth of July celebrations. “We wear this uniform,” the admiral stated, “because we believe in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”
In summarizing her passion for the military, she cited one of the country’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. “Where liberty dwells, there is my country,” she quoted, before adding her own take on the seminal line: “Where liberty dwells, there is the US Navy.”
Howard was sworn in by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. He celebrated her promotion as an example of the Navy’s commitment to contemporary American ideals, and hailed it as a sign that the Navy “reflects the nation it serves,” a country where prosperity is not predicated on gender, race, or religion but rather ability and skill.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert touted the numerous “trailblazing accomplishments” that Howard has made in her 32 years of service as evidence of her dedication to integrity and excellence. Greenert turned to the future as well as the past, stating that he looked forward to” many great things to come” from the military’s latest four-star admiral.
Graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1982, Howard also attended the Army’s Command and General Staff College, where she earned a master’s degree in military arts and sciences in 1998. In 1999, she became the first African-American woman in U.S. history to take command of a ship in the Navy. She was honored with the USO Military Woman of the Year award in 2011 and the NAACP Chairman’s Image Award in 2013.
There are currently 67,146 women in the U.S. naval service. Of them, 8,944 are officers on active duty. Eleven women are in command of combatants and nine are in aviation command.
Howard is not the first woman to attain a four-star officer rank. That distinction belongs to the U.S. Army’s Gen. Ann Elizabeth Dunwoody, who was promoted in November 2008 and retired from military service in August 2012.
The Air Force’s Gen. Janet Carol Wolfenbarger is the only other women in U.S. military history to attain a four-star officer rank. She was promoted in June 2012 and currently serves as the commander of the Air Force Material Command.
Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho is another remarkable woman in the military service. A nurse, she is the nation’s 43rd surgeon general and commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Command. She is the first woman and the first non-physician ever to be appointed to the position.
As the woman who most recently attained her fourth star, Admiral Michelle Howard will join the other exemplary women in the upper echelons of both the U.S. Navy and the wider American military. Her appointment signals that their ranks will only grow with time.
By Yitzchak Besser
US Air Force