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A member of the Naval Academy's class of 1982 has become the first African-American woman promoted to a three-star rank in the U.S. armed forces.
Vice Adm. Michelle Janine Howard earned the title on Friday by assuming a new job as deputy commander of U.S. Fleet Forces command in Norfolk, Va.
It's another honor to add to a long list of achievements for the former midshipman. In 1999, Howard became the first African-American woman to command a U.S. Navy warship and in 2006, she became the first female graduate of the Naval Academy to achieve the rank of rear admiral. She is also the first African-American woman to command an Expeditionary Strike Group at sea.
Her last assignment was serving as the chief of staff for the director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
"We're extremely proud to call (Howard) a graduate and we're also extremely pleased that she's part of our Board of Visitors," said Cmdr. William Marks, a spokesman for the Naval Academy.
In 1978, Howard entered the Naval Academy as a freshman. Hers was the third class to accept women. At that time, women made up only five percent of the Navy.
"When you look at where society was at the time, this was before there was even a woman on the Supreme Court, before Sally Ride was an astronaut," Howard said in a statement. "It was also only five or six years after we became an all volunteer force in the military, so our society was still going through a lot of changes."
Howard's initial sea tours were aboard USS Hunley (AS 31) and USS Lexington (AVT 16). While serving on board Lexington, she received the secretary of the Navy/Navy League Captain Winifred Collins award in May 1987, an award given to one woman officer a year for outstanding leadership.
She took command of USS Rushmore (LSD 47) on March 12, 1999, becoming the first African-American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy.
Howard was promoted to rear admiral lower half in 2006, making her the first admiral selected from the Naval Academy class of 1982 and the first woman graduate of the United States Naval Academy selected for flag rank.
In 2009, Howard put on her second star and assumed command of Expeditionary Strike Group 2 and deployed in the Gulf of Aden to conduct anti-piracy operations.
Within a week of checking aboard her flag ship, amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), she was part of the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips, commanding officer of the MV Maersk Alabama. The MV Maersk Alabama was captured by Somali pirates on April 8 and Phillips was later rescued on April 12.
To women following in her footsteps, Howard offered advice.
"You have to keep your sense of humor," she said in a statement. "You have to develop stamina and you need to be adaptable. Finally, you need to stay connected to women. It's important to be able to share experiences and to be able to tap into those shared experiences."
Howard is a 1978 graduate of Gateway High School in Aurora, Colo. Along with her graduation from the Naval Academy in 1982, she graduated from the Army's Command and General Staff College in 1998, with a Masters in Military Arts and Sciences.