Sunday 26 August 2012

Black woman becomes deputy head of US Navy

Getting respect and promotion in masculine institutions is hard work if you're a woman, and a black woman at that. But on Friday Michelle Janine Howard was promoted to deputy commander of U.S. Fleet Forces command in Norfolk on Friday. She's the first black woman to attain a three-star rank in the US's entire armed forces.

Born in 1960 and educated at Annapolis Naval Institute (in only the third intake of women, in 1978) she has been supported in realising a seemingly impossible ambition she had aged twelve by an ex-Marine husband, her Air Force Master Sergeant father, and British-born mother.

“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, and 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.”

“In the 1980s when the Navy opened the logistics ships to women, that was huge, because it allowed a lot of opportunities for women to serve at sea. Then it was just a few years later that we were engaged in Operation Desert Storm. So even though women weren’t serving on warships, women were still serving in a combat arena, and that started a national conversation."

Vice Admiral Howard has been a first before. In 1999 she became the first African-American woman to command a Navy warship at sea, USS Rushmore.

She was the first woman graduate of that academy to become a rear admiral, in 2009. That year she was also the first black woman to command an expeditionary strike group at sea.

Within a week of assuming command of Expeditionary Strike Group Two, whose job was to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, she led the the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips. He was commanding officer of the MV Maersk Alabama, which had been attacked by Somali pirates.

See: History maker: Aurora native first black woman to be 3-star admiral - The Denver Post

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