Michelle Howard just wanted to do her job. She was a black woman who’d excelled in the U.S. Navy for years, so naturally, all sorts of organizations wanted her to come share her stories, or to clink glasses with her at their parties.
In 1999, she’d become the first black woman to command a Navy ship, the USS Rushmore (LSD 47). And over the years, she’d also commanded tsunami rescue efforts, maritime security operations, and counter-piracy strikes. In fact, just three days into her counter-piracy command, she successfully led the well-documented rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates who’d hijacked & kidnapped him from the Maersk Alabama.
By then, she’d also won the Women of Color STEM Career Achievement Award, the USO Military Woman of the Year Award, the NAACP Chairman's Award, and the Secretary of the Navy’s Captain Winifred Collins Award. She’d even started her career famously as one of the first women admitted to the United States Naval Academy.
Michelle didn’t get where she was by entertaining distractions. Back when she was little, she’d learned to stay focused after kids on the playground called her a n*gger and when she ran home crying, her father told her "You gotta toughen up. This is the country you live in."
She wanted to shut out everything but the job when a few words from her mother changed her entire perspective: “You are where you are historically.”
So she embraced her place in history, and anything else that came along with it. Two years later, Michelle came to take it all.
On July 1, 2014, she became the first female four-star admiral, as well as the first black person and first woman to serve as Vice Chief of Naval Operations.
On June 7, 2016, she stepped down as Vice Chief of Naval Operations… to lead U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. Sixth Fleet, becoming the first female four-star admiral to command operational forces in the process. She also leads NATO's Allied Joint Force Command Naples - JFCNP in Italy. All that, and she’s only 56.
So when it comes to doing her job, as the highest ranking female in U.S. military history, I think it’s safe to say that she’s doing an all-around damn good one.