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Michelle Howard becomes U.S. Navy's first female four-star admiral

Michelle Howard becomes U.S. Navy's first female four-star admiral
Adm. Michelle Howard lends a hand to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus as he and Wayne Cowles, Howard's husband, put four-star shoulder boards on Howard's uniform during her promotion ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Washington Tuesday July 1, 2014. (MCC Peter D. Lawlor / U.S. Navy)
Michelle Howard might be used to being the first to do a lot of things, but Tuesday's first is a big one.

In a ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at  Arlington National Cemetery, Howard became the first woman promoted to the rank of four-star admiral in the Navy's 236-year history. She will serve as the vice chief of naval operations, the Navy Times reported.

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In 1999 she became the first African-American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy when she took command of the dock landing ship Rushmore.

"If you don't believe today was a first, when I called to order four-star shoulder boards for women, they didn't exist," Howard said during the ceremony, according to video of the event. "You folks are seeing the first set in the United States Navy."

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said that though the moment was historic, it reflected a simple choice: "There is no news here. The Navy picked the best officer to be [vice chief of naval operations]. That is the only thing that happened here today."

Howard is perhaps best known for commanding the strike force that coordinated the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips after he was taken hostage by Somali pirates.

"She will bear the burden of a role model and she is ready to bear that very well. And I am very excited about that because we need lots more women in the Navy," Adm. Jonathan Greenert said during the ceremony.

Follow @jpanzar for breaking news.

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