Michelle Howard Becomes The 1st Four-Star Woman In US Navy History


Ahem, that’s Vice-Admiral Michelle Howard to you all! This woman has literally just changed the face of US Military history by becoming the first woman and first African-American to be promoted to the position of a four-star officer.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because you probably remember our friends from The Empowerment Project who interviewed Michelle for their documentary in September 2013. When they were filming, Michelle was only a three-star officer, yet still made history for the same reasons in that position.

It seems this pioneer woman continues to blaze trails and open new pathways for other women in the US Navy. She is also the first African-American woman to command a US Navy ship. Fun fact: less than a week into her new job as the head of a Navy counter-piracy force in 2009, she found out the cargo ship Maersk Alabama had been kidnapped by Somali pirates. She was the officer in charge of negotiating with the pirates who had kidnapped the ship’s captain in a lifeboat. Navy seals ended up shooting the pirates and rescuing the captain.

Wanna know his name? Captain Phillips, the same guy who was the subject of an Oscar-nominated movie of the same name starring Tom Hanks. Yep, Vice Admiral Michelle Howard played a key role in that incident. It would’ve been really awesome if the film actually showed her character as part of the drama, but that’s another issue…

During the pinning ceremony, her achievements, career and hard work were lauded by her Navy bosses who recognized that despite her gender and the gender battles women still face in the military, she is an example of what is possible if you don’t give up.

“She is a representation of how far we have come, and how far she has helped bring us,” said U.S. Navy ship. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

“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…” reports the Washington Post.


Being the father of three daughters, he has been passionate about the rise of women in the ranks.

“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,” he said before adding that her promotion wasn’t really “news” because it was simply a matter of the Navy picking the best person for the job. YES!

Thank you Ray Mabus for echoing the exact statement women say a lot, that we hope to one day live in a world where women’s achievements are normal and constant.

So far the Army, the Air Force and now the Navy have each promoted women to four-star officer status, but the Marine Corps have only got as far as promoting a woman to three-star.

Michelle told the Washington Post after the ceremony that the decision to allow women to serve on combatant ships and fly fighter jets in 1993 was a huge milestone for the Navy.

It seems she was always destined for greatness and to be a role model for other women. Around 14 years ago she predicted to Time Magazine in an interview that one day she hopes to see a female Chief of Naval Operations. At the rate she’s going, it could very well be her since she is currently the deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans, and strategy which is only two positions away from CNO.

According to the Pentagon’s latest demographic report, 14.5% of active-duty military personnel are women. They represent 13.5% of the Army, 16.4% of the Navy and 19% of the Air Force. Women account for only 6.8% of the Marine Corps.

In that same interview with Time, she also spoke about sexism within the Navy and how she dealt with it.

“When men walk onto a ship, on board they have the luxury of being average. When you walk in as a woman, that assumption does not come with you—you need to prove yourself.”


Sometimes it wasn’t her gender, but her ethnicity that she had to battle against and overcome stereotyping. And in some cases it was a novelty. But time would soon prove she wasn’t just there for fun.

“For some of the sailors, it was a big deal—not because of the woman thing, but because of the African-American thing,” she recalled. “I literally had people coming up, wanting to have their picture taken with me—this is the first time this has happened, where a minority woman has had command of a ship.”

Elsewhere in the world she receives mostly positive reactions from other country’s military who are expecting a man in her position.

“Harbor pilots are surprised overseas,” she said at the time. “In Australia, the reaction was tremendous, especially from the women—`Oh good for you, we need to do this in our country!’ The men were: `Well, m’am, we don’t see your type around here.’ ”

Eventually she was able to show her Navy superiors that she deserved every promotion because she was good at her job. And that is something women everywhere, who work in male-dominated industries, want to be known for: being the best.

In a world where sexism and misogyny seems to be the order of the day even in 2014, it is awesome to be able to celebrate a major milestone which serves to inspire women everywhere not to give up. This soft-spoken, high-achieving four-star officer proves that success isn’t defined by gender, physical appearance and especially not by others’ expectations.

Hardships will always be a constant in life, it is whether you choose to bow under the pressure, or use them as a footstool for your launching pad into greatness that will make all the difference.

You can watch the full 30-minute ceremony below, as captured by the Washington Post:





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