WASHINGTON (NNS) -- A Navy officer poised to become the service's first woman and the military's first African-American woman to achieve four-star rank will be a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama tonight as President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address.
Vice Adm. Michelle J. Howard, currently the deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, was nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate in December to receive her fourth star and assignment as the vice chief of naval operations.
Howard's initial sea tours were aboard USS Hunley and USS Lexington. While serving on board Lexington, she received the secretary of the Navy/Navy League Captain Winifred Collins award in May 1987. This award is given to one woman officer a year for outstanding leadership.
She took command of USS Rushmore on March 12, 1999, becoming the first African-American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship. In 2010, she was the maritime task force commander for the Baltic Operations exercise under U.S. 6th Fleet.
Her shore assignments have included service on the Joint Staff and in the office of the chief naval operations, duty as senior military assistant to the secretary of the Navy, and service as deputy commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
Howard is a 1978 graduate of Gateway High School in Aurora, Colo. She graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982 and from the Army's Command and General Staff College in 1998, with a master's in degree in military arts and sciences.