WASHINGTON, July 1 (UPI) -- The United States Navy promoted Michelle Howard from vice admiral to admiral Monday, making Howard the first female in the Navy's 236-year history to hold the rank of four star admiral.
Along with her new rank and four star shoulder bars, Howard will also take on the post of Vice Chief of Naval Operations, the second highest position in the Navy.
Howard, no stranger to making history, was the first black woman to command a Navy ship.
Howard was promoted to her new rank during a ceremony held at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
"Michelle Howard's promotion to the rank of admiral is the result of a brilliant naval career, one I fully expect to continue when she assumes her new role as vice chief of naval operations," said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. "But also, it is an historic first, an event to be celebrated as she becomes the first female to achieve this position.
Howard was raised in Colorado, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982, and has been breaking down barriers and busting through glass ceilings ever since.
Her earliest tours were aboard the USS Hunley and the USS Lexington. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, she served as chief engineer aboard the USS Mount Hood. Howard served as executive officer of the USS Tortuga when the ship supported peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. She made history as the first African-American woman to command a ship in 1999 (the amphibious dock landing ship Rushmore) before going on to command Amphibious Squadron 7 and later Expeditionary Strike Group 2.
"Her accomplishment is a direct example of a Navy that now, more than ever, reflects the nation it serves -- a nation where success is not born of race, gender or religion, but of skill and ability," Mabus told the crowd during the ceremony. "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, based on their capability. "
In an interview with The Navy Times, retired Rear Adm. Sonny Masso addressed those naysayers who would claim that Howard's successes were a result of anything besides her ability and hard work.
"Do I think she's a token female, a token African-American, or anything like that? I would say absolutely and emphatically not," Masso said. "[With] her performance and critical jobs across the spectrum ... she has brought an extraordinary amount of experience that is equal to any of her peers."
Mabus echoed this sentiment when he said, "I am the father of three daughters, and 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."