Michelle Howard Navy’s First Female 4-Star Admiral

Michelle Howard has become the highest ranking woman in the history of the US Navy--and the US military, period.


Michelle Howard has become the highest ranking woman in the history of the US Navy–and the US military, period.

Military Times (“Senate confirms Navy’s first female 4-star, VCNO“):

Senators confirmed Vice Adm. Michelle Howard for the service’s No. 2 post on Friday, making her the first female four-star admiral in the Navy’s 238-year history.

Her promotion to vice chief of naval operations, expected for early 2014, will also make her the first African-American woman to attain four-star rank in Pentagon history.

The Army blazed the trail here, making Ann Dunwoody the first female four-star in US history back in June 2008—three years after she became the Army’s first woman three-star. Janet Wolfenbarger became the Air Force’s first female four-star last June. Both women headed their service’s materiel command. Howard, by contrast, took a much more traditional path:

The 1982 Naval Academy graduate and surface warfare officer has set many firsts in her career. She was the first black woman to command a ship — the dock landing ship Rushmore in 1999 — and went on to command Amphibious Squadron 7 and later Expeditionary Strike Group 2.

A few days after she took charge of the counterpiracy Combined Task Force 151 in 2009, Somali pirates overran the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, setting off a hostage crisis followed around the world. Howard’s voice was depicted in “Captain Phillips” — a 2013 film dramatizing the crisis — when she speaks over the radiotelephone to the commanding officer of the destroyer Bainbridge. Howard attended a Washington, D.C., screening of the film.

Howard has earned a number of distinctions from outside organizations over her 31-year career, including receiving the Chairman’s Award from the NAACP in February.

Howard, 53, currently serves as the deputy CNO for operations, plans and strategy at the Pentagon.

That’s an impressive career, indeed. And, as the number two officer in the Navy, she’s higher on the four-star totem pole than Dunwoody (now retired) and Wolfenbarger.

The Marine Corps, which has a much smaller logistical tail and is therefore more male dominated than the other services, has yet to pin a fourth star on a woman. Carol Mutter became the first female three-star Marine way back in 1996.

Interestingly, like Wolfenbarger, Howard made four-star rank at a faster pace (31 years, 6 months) than Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey (34 years, 6 months).

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Military Affairs, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. “Michelle Howard Navy’s First Female 4-Star Admiral”

  2. Nikki says:

    She rocks.

  3. 11B40 says:


    Are we really, really sure about the “female” part ??? Maybe she’s (if I may) an affirmative action triple-dipper ???

    But on the brighter side, if this doesn’t get the Islamaniacs to throw down their religious items, I’m pretty sure it will at least put the smile back on Mrs. Obama’s face.

  4. 11B40 says:


    Okay, one more, but this one is really really serious.

    Back in the early ’80s, back around the USS Norton Sound time, I was working for the Navy as a civilian printer in Newport, (Li’l Rhody) Rhode Island. One day, as I was prepping a Change of Command program for production, I came across the naval cirriculum vitae of a female Lieutenant Commander who was peripherally involved. She had been in the Navy for 12 years at that point, ten of them at different Newport Naval Station commands and two at the Navy’s Public Affairs Office on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

    Oh, yeah, one more thing. Her nom de guerre was “Legs”.

    Forward !!! Full speed ahead ???