Historic promotion for Navy hero
By Kate Briquelet
She has fought pirates, commanded warships and was the first African-American woman to achieve a Naval rank of three stars.
Now, Vice Admiral Michelle Howard, 53, is set to become the first woman and first African-American in Navy history to achieve a fourth star, pending Senate approval.
President Obama on Friday tapped Howard to be Vice Chief of Naval Operations — a historic nomination that would make her the Navy’s second-ranking officer.
The 5-foot-2 hero is no stranger to breaking barriers. In 1999, she became the first African-American woman to command a Navy ship, the USS Rushmore.
“Men have the luxury of being average,” Howard told Time magazine when she commanded the USS Rushmore, a 15,000-ton assault vessel. “When you walk in as a woman, that assumption does not come with you — you need to prove yourself.”
Howard helped to rescue Capt. Richard Phillips, who was held hostage by Somali pirates, in 2009 when she was just three days into her new job as head of a strike force in the Arabian Sea.
From aboard the USS Boxer, Howard helped direct a Navy destroyer to the pirates’ lifeboat. She knew the captain would be done for if they reached Somalia.
“We were getting more and more concerned that … they might actually kill [Phillips],” she said.
After two days of failed negotiations, Howard called in a team of Navy SEALs to shoot the pirates and bring Phillips home.
Born to an Air Force sergeant and his British wife in Aurora, Colo., Howard dreamed of joining the Navy from age 12. At the time, federal law blocked women from military schools. Still, she graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., in 1982 and became the first graduate of her class to attain the rank of admiral. She’s been married to retired Marine Wayne Cowles for most of her storied career.
She served in the Persian Gulf War, during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and was deployed to peacekeeping missions in the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
Last year, as she was promoted to three stars, Howard offered advice to female officers following in her footsteps: “You have to keep your sense of humor,” she said. “You have to develop stamina and you need to be adaptable.”