Tags: first | woman | four-star | admiral | howard

First Female Four-Star Admiral Promoted for 'Capability'

Image: First Female Four-Star Admiral Promoted for 'Capability' Adm. Michelle Howard and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus at Howard's promotion ceremony on July 1, 2014. (Getty Images)

By Sandy Fitzgerald   |   Saturday, 12 Jul 2014 02:59 PM

Adm. Michelle Howard's fourth star sends a message to others in the military — and it's not that she's the first female four-star admiral in the U.S. Navy's 239-year history, says one of her former instructors.

"Admiral Howard is all about capability, not that she's a woman or that she's African-American," retired Col. Krewasky Salter, who in 1998 was one of her instructors at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., told The New York Times.

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With her promotion late last month, Howard also became the vice chief of naval operations.

She's making history not only as the Navy's first four-star female, but as the highest-ranking African-American woman in a military that did not allow promotion of any women to general or admiral until 1967.

Howard told the Times her promotion means adjustments in many unexpected ways. For example, she said she was looking for a way to display her new insignia for her Navy dress whites.

"I said, ‘I need to order a four-star women's shoulder board,' and there's this silence," Howard said. "Then the lady goes, ‘Um, I'm not seeing any in the system.' And I said, ‘Yeah, I thought that might be the case.' "

Howard, 54, said that she did not know when she was younger it was possible for her to become anything more than a one-star, rear admiral.

But today's sailors have "never known a life when there hasn't been a woman admiral, women three-stars, women in command of ships, women in command of destroyers."

Howard became a public figure even before her recent promotion. In 2009, just after she was named commander of a counterpiracy task force out of Bahrain, pirates hijacked the container ship Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia. She coordinated the rescue of the ship's commander, "Captain Phillips" and ended up having her story depicted in the Tom Hanks movie.

She says she knew the ending, of course, and thought the film was "well done."

Howard told the Times she became interested in heading for service academy training after watching a documentary as the 12-year-old daughter of an Air Force senior noncommissioned officer.

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She graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1982, just six years after women were first admitted to the academies, and recalls there "were angry men" and "issues on the first few ships because it was all brand new. Change is hard in society."

Howard's fourth star isn't her only "first" achievement. In 1992 she became the first African-American woman to command a ship, the USS Rushmore, and was able to climb as the military's culture changed.

Howard is just behind Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, and is taking the job just when there are mounting issues with sexual assault cases, including at her alma mater.

"We, as leaders, have to get after sexual assault, and I believe we have to work on the command climate," Howard said. "I believe we have to go back and look at how we've done gender integration, make sure our policies are set and that we are setting the climate across the Navy for our commanding officers and our senior enlisted to be successful, and for our sailors to be successful shipmates."

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