(ARLINGTON, Va.) -- For the first time ever, the U.S. Navy has a female four-star admiral.
Adm. Michelle Howard was promoted to that rank on Tuesday, becoming the Navy’s vice chief of operations -- it’s second-highest-ranking officer -- in a ceremony at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, with the Navy’s top leadership in attendance.
“If you don't believe today was a first, when I called to order four-star shoulder boards for women, they didn't exist,” Howard told the audience, after Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Howard’s husband pinned the new shoulder boards on Howard in a small auditorium, concluding the brief ceremony that made her promotion official. “[A] special contract was let, and you folks are seeing the first set in the history of the United States Navy.”
The highest-ranking African-American woman ever in any branch of the military, Howard commanded the Navy task force involved in the Maersk Alabama rescue, which became the plot of the film Captain Phillips. An actress’ depiction of Howard’s voice can be heard in that film.
Mabus praised Howard in introductory remarks, acknowledging the significance of her promotion but also downplaying its news value; the Navy simply picked the best officer for the job, Mabus said.
“She is a representation of how far we have come and how far she has helped bring us, she and so many, so many others have helped us to this day,” Mabus said. “I believe that today is an example of a Navy that now reflects the highest ideals of the nation that we serve -- a nation where success is not born by ethnicity or gender, but by skill and ability.”
After the ceremony, Howard spoke to a group of reporters, reflecting on her achievement, the Navy’s embrace of women over the last 20 years, and what her rank means for other women in the Navy.
“The Navy has come tremendously far, and I don’t know that there's much more we need to go,” Howard said. “Once we opened up surface warfare ships, once women could become fighter pilots -- and we have a woman who's a carrier air group commander now -- once they could serve on submarines. It's a great Navy and great opportunity for women, and so my rank today lets them know that they can go from … ensign to admiral -- it’s open.”
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