Navy Gets Its First Female Four-Star Admiral

07/01/2014 10:57 am ET | Updated Jul 01, 2014

WASHINGTON -- The Navy has promoted Michelle Howard from vice admiral to admiral, making her the first female four-star admiral in its 236-year history and the service's new vice chief of naval operations.

Howard paid tribute to the nation's service members Tuesday morning at her promotion ceremony, held at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. In her brief remarks, she said that the "willingness to step up and contribute to a noble cause in your life is a sign of true selflessness."

"Our sailors and Marines are this legacy. They are volunteers," she said. "And with every mission, they demonstrate our core values, values our founders would have understood -- courage, honor, commitment."

She recently told the Navy Times that there are many more opportunities for women in the military than there were when she first joined.

“Now I think about it all these years later, the combat exclusion law was repealed and women can serve on all classes of ships, all types of aircraft. And then the last couple of years, opening up the submarines to women -- it's significant," she said.

But she has still encountered obstacles. "There were individuals who didn't want me there or wanted to undermine what I was trying to do," Howard told WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C.

That sort of skepticism has followed Howard. In 2013, a Navy report found that one of her peers told others that he believed Howard's promotion to vice admiral was sped up because of her race and gender, and she "may not have had to cross as many hurdles in the same fashion to get where she was at."

In an interview with the Navy Times in January, retired Rear Adm. Sonny Masso took issue with that characterization.

“Do I think she's a token female, a token African-American, or anything like that? I would say absolutely and emphatically not," Masso said. "[With] her performance and critical jobs across the spectrum ... she has brought an extraordinary amount of experience that is equal to any of her peers."

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