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.
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."
"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.