Michelle J. Howard is a groundbreaker for the black women, with a fulfilling career in the Navy. Born on April 30th, 1960, in Riverside, California, she earned her basic education from Gateway High School in Aurora, and enrolled in the United States Naval Academy, graduating in 1982. That same year, she graduated from the Army Command and General Staff College with a master’s in military arts and sciences.
Howard steps into her father’s shoes who also served as a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.
In 1978 when she enrolled, she was one of the seven African-American women amongst the U.S. Naval Academy’s 1,363 students.
Howard’s initial sea tours were aboard USS Lexington (AVT 16) and USS Hunley (AS 31). She was conferred with the secretary of the Navy/Navy League Captain Winifred Collins award in May 1987 while serving aboard Lexington (an award conferred to one woman officer a year for outstanding leadership).
In 1990, as chief engineer with the USS Mount Hood (AE29), she served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Later in July 1992, she assumed the position as the first lieutenant on board the USS Flint (AE 32).
In January 1996, she became an executive officer of USS Tortuga (LSD 46) and was sent to join the Adriatic team (Operation Joint Endeavor), a peacekeeping effort in the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
Michelle assumed the command position of USS Rushmore (LSD 47) on March 12th, 1999, making her the first African-American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy. She was also the commander of Amphibious Squadron 7th from May 2004 to September 2005.
While in 2009, she commanded Expeditionary Strike Group 2 from April 2009 to July 2010 when it was deployed off the coast of Africa.
While in the new position for just a week, the Virginian-Pilot reported that “the Norfolk-based cargo ship Maersk Alabama had been ambushed by Somali pirates and its captain was being held hostage aboard a life raft for ransom”. Being the commander it was her responsibility to set him free.
“That’s an awesome way to start a new job. In no time, we had various ships, special forces, aircraft and it seemed like the whole world was focused on one American and trying to make sure he didn’t end up on shore in Somalia,” Michelle said in 2012. “Synchronizing that kind of power and capability was pretty amazing.”
In 2014, she became the first woman to be given a four-star Admiral in the U.S. Navy and the first woman to assume the position of Vice Chief of Naval Operations (number two in a Military Service). This made her the first African-American woman to have the rank of three-star and four-stars in the Armed Forces as well.
After consummating her assignment as the commander of naval forces in Europe and Africa, she retired in 2017.
Two years after retirement, IBM appointed her to its board. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty told the press, “Admiral Howard is a trailblazing leader with a distinct career in military service.”
“Her leadership capabilities, international perspective and extensive experience with cybersecurity and information technology is a plus to the IBM Board.”
Presently, Howard now takes lectures on cybersecurity and international policy at George Washington University.