By Thomas Perry
DCMA Public Affairs
FORT LEE, Va. - Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle J. Howard served as the guest speaker for Defense Contract Management Agency’s Women’s History Month celebration, held here March 10.
The admiral, at the invitation of the agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office, made her first visit to the agency headquarters to commemorate the month’s 2016 theme — Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.
Howard’s career has been defined by firsts. She is the Navy’s first female four-star admiral. She is the first African-American woman to achieve both the three and four star flag officer ranks in the U.S. armed forces, and she was the first African-American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship, USS Rushmore.
“Adm. Howard’s story is one of great perseverance, a quest for excellence and opening doors for women,” said DCMA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Wendy Masiello. “Her story, and the stories she shared of women in public service, were a perfect fit for Women’s History Month.”
During her speech, Howard identified many historically significant women who she called “the bricks and foundation of forming a more perfect union.”
Mary Fields was the first African-American U.S. mail carrier, who — according to a 1959 article in Ebony magazine written by Gary Cooper — was “Born a slave somewhere in Tennessee, some say in 1932, Mary lived to become one of the freest souls ever to draw breath or a .38.”
Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to the United States Congress in 1916 — four years before the nation’s women received the right to vote. Frances Perkins, who served as the Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet.
These were just a few of the “bricks” Howard mentioned. She also spoke about her journey and how she was influenced early on by her mother’s wisdom.
“It’s not like you come (into the Navy) as an ensign or a second lieutenant and think one day I am going to be the vice chief,” Howard said. “Literally for me the very first challenge was the commitment to go.”
Howard told of watching a documentary featuring the Air Force Academy when she was 12 and thinking “that’s what I want to do.” She was disappointed however, as her brother informed her that it was against the law for women to attend the service academies. Upset at the injustice, Howard, who was only 12-years-old at the time, was calmed by her mother, who told her “if you get older and decide you want to apply and you get rejected because you’re a woman, we will sue the government.”
The admiral said her mother taught her in that one conversation “the importance of going after what I believe in and the idea of persistence to do what’s right.” That law changed in 1976 when Howard was 16. Two years later she was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy, and in 1982, she graduated.
Throughout Howard’s historic career, she has seen opportunities for women in the Navy grow dramatically.
“The playing field has been leveled in so many ways,” Howard said. “When I started the combat exclusion law was still in effect. So literally when I was a midshipman, support ships were open to women for the first time. When I started, women couldn’t go to sea except on hospital ships, and by the time I graduated, women could serve on salvage ships and ships that repaired other ships — tenders and missile test platforms.”
After Operation Desert Storm the combat exclusion law was repealed, which allowed women in the Air Force to fly combatant air craft and women in the Navy to serve on combatant ships, Howard explained.
“So now destroyers, cruisers and amphibious ships opened to women, and I became the first woman (executive officer) of an amphibious ship,” she said. “Those experiences allowed me to command an amphibious ship. So it’s been a remarkable journey in terms of the law changing and proving opportunity for women. And then, for us, just four years ago we opened up submarines for women.”
At the conclusion of Howard’s speech, Masiello thanked the admiral for her “remarkable” insight and presented her a book featuring Sarah Edmonds, who enlisted in the Union Army as a man during the Civil War and served honorably fighting in many historical battles. The book included the inscription:
“Adm. Howard, thank you for being a warrior leader who just happens to be a woman. You rock.
— Your DCMA Admirers.”
Media Relations: 804-873-8011
FOIA Requests: 804-734-1466
Download the DCMA Media Kit (PDF)