WASHINGTON --The U.S. Navy has a new No. 2. For the first time in the Navy's 236-year history, a woman was pinned Tuesday with a fourth star. It was just one of many firsts achieved in Admiral Michelle Janine Howard's 32 years in the Navy.
Howard was one of the first women to attend the Naval Academy, the first African American woman to command a ship, and on Tuesday she became the Navy's first female four-star admiral.
"If you don't believe today was a first, when I called to order four-star shoulder bars for women, they didn't exist," Howard said. "You folks are seeing the first set in the history of the United States Navy."
"She will bear the burden of a role model and she is ready to bear that very well. And I'm very excited about that, because we need lots more women in the Navy," said Admiral Jonathan Greenert.
At Tuesday's Women in Military Service for America Memorial at the Arlington National Cemetery, near the Pentagon, Greenert said he had no question she was the right person for the job.
Howard was at the pentagon on Sept. 11. And in 2009, she had just become the head of a Navy strike force in the Arabian Sea when a soon-to-be-well-known American sea captain was captured by Somali pirates.
"I was about three days into the job when we got word that Captain Phillips had been kidnapped," Howard said.
She is now the Navy's second highest ranking officer distinction
"There is no news here today," said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. "The Navy picked the best officer to be the VCNO. That's the only thing that happened here today."
"My rank advancement today lets them know that they can go from junior enlisted to big pawn of the Navy or to admiral," said Howard.
Howard now joins just two other woman to ever reach the four star rank -- one in the Army and the other in the Air Force.
She will serve as the vice chief of naval operations, which makes her the No. 2 admiral in the Navy behind Adm. Greenert, the chief of naval operations.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)