Navy names first female 4-star admiral

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President Obama nominated Navy Vice Adm. Michelle Howard for the appointment to the rank of admiral, making her the first woman in Navy history to achieve a fourth star.

The president also nominated her for the assignment of vice chief of naval operations, the second-highest-ranking officer in the U.S. Navy and just one step below the Navy’s highest rank, chief of naval operations. Upon the Senate’s confirmation of the nomination, Howard will be the first woman and the first African-American to serve as the Navy’s second in command.

Howard is currently serving as deputy of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy.

The 53-year-old graduated from the Naval academy in 1982 and took command of her first ship, the Rushmore, in 1999, becoming the first black woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy.

The Army awarded their first female, Ann Dunwoody, four stars in 2008, and the Air Force awarded four stars to Janet Wolberger in 2012.

TIME asked Howard if it was tougher dealing with sexism or racism in the service. “Sexism within the service, and racism outside the service,” she said.

Follow Carrie Healey on Twitter @CarrieHeals.

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