African-American Transportation History: US Navy Admiral Michelle J. Howard

During the course of her extensive and eventful military career, U.S. Navy Admiral Michelle Janine Howard achieved several noteworthy “firsts” in such areas as maritime transportation. Howard, who was born into a military family at the March Air Reserve Base in southern California, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982. Her class was among the first to accept women into the institution.

In the years that followed, Howard continued being a trailblazer. This was helped considerably by the Navy’s 1980 decision expanding opportunities for women to serve on vessels that provide various types of logistical support. This change in policy allowed Howard to advance even further than she could have before in her own naval career.

A key milestone took place in 1999 when then-Commander Howard became commanding officer of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore. This made her the first African-American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy. In a 2015 interview with The Atlantic magazine, Howard talked about how commanding a ship was the job she liked the most and the one role that “resonated.”

In 2014, Howard made U.S. Navy history again as the first woman to become a four-star admiral and both the first African-American and first woman to serve as vice chief of naval operations. Her high-level assignments also included multiple roles as the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, U.S. Naval Forces Africa, and Allied Joint Force Command, Naples. Howard retired from the Navy in 2017 after nearly 36 years of service.

For more information on Michelle J. Howard, please check out the 26 September 2017 Stars and Stripes article “US Navy’s 1st female 4-star admiral set to retire” at​.

Additional information on Admiral Howard and other African-Americans who have served in the U.S. Navy is available at

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