By Julissa Catalan
U.S. Navy history was made on Tuesday when Admiral Michelle Howard was officially promoted to Vice Chief of Naval Operations (VCNO), making her the first woman and first Black person in the Navy’s 236 years to become a four-star admiral.
Howard’s new rank makes her the No. 2 officer in the service.
Her promotion ceremony took place at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
While honoring Howard at the ceremony, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus called her promotion a “representation of how far we have come, and how far she has helped bring us.”
“She is also a great example of how much we as a nation and a Navy lose if we put artificial barriers in, if we don’t judge people based on their ability, based on their capability,” Mabus added. “I hope I have always been passionate about that, but I know the intensity has increased since I am the father of three daughters, and I refuse to believe that there are any ceilings for them, glass or otherwise. That they can get to wherever their abilities can take them. And with that, they and countless others in the Navy now have a wonderful role model in Michelle Howard.”
Howard is no stranger to making history. Before this milestone, she was the first Black woman to serve as a three-star officer in the U.S. military, and was also the first woman in history to command a U.S. Navy shipthe USS Rushmore, an amphibious dock landing ship, in 1999.
The admiralwho graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982 and went on to receive a master’s degree in Military Arts and Sciences from the Army’s Command and General Staff College in 1998served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and also took part in tsunami relief efforts in Indonesia before taking command of Expeditionary Strike Group Two in April 2009.
Howard is best known for leading Combined Task Force 151which coordinated the rescue of the captain of the cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama, RichardPhillips, from Somali pirates.
Along with her team, Howard devised a rescue plan, dispatching the USS Bainbridge, a destroyer, to help. Navy SEAL snipers eventually opened fire on a small lifeboat carrying Phillips and three Somali pirates, killing them and freeing Phillips after days of an at-sea stand off.
Howard will replace Admiral Mark E. Ferguson, who has been nominated to lead the Navy’s forces in Europe and Africa, as well as the Allied Joint Forces Command in Naples, Italy. The VCNO reports directly to Chief Naval Officer Admiral Jonathan Greenert.
Thefirst female four-star officer in the U.S. militarywasn’t appointed until 2008, when Army General Ann E. Dunwoody took over as the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.She retired in 2012. But women have made gains in senior defense positions under the Obama administration. Earlier this month, Christine Fox was nominated by the President to serve as theacting Deputy Secretary of Defense, the second-highest civilian rank at the Pentagon.