07/02/2014 at 11:00 AM EDT
The U.S. Navy has promoted its first female four-star admiral.
Michelle J. Howard received the honor at a ceremony Tuesday at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Washington, D.C., Stars and Stripes
With it, Howard becomes the Navy's highest-ranking female officer in history as vice chief of Naval Operations – its No. 2 officer.
Howard smiled broadly at the ceremony, where her long career of military service
"It is a remarkable sign of leadership, to be persistent in your goals and to achieve them," she said in accepting the honor, the Washington Post
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus honored her impact and its significance. "Her accomplishment is a direct example of a Navy that now, more than ever, reflects the nation it serves – a nation where success is not born of race, gender or religion, but of skill and ability," he said.
"She is also a great example of how much we, as a nation, and a Navy, lose if we put artificial barriers in. If we don’t judge people based on their ability, based on their capability," Mabus said. "I hope I have always been passionate about that, but I know the intensity has increased since I am the father of three daughters, and I refuse to believe that there are any ceilings for them, glass or otherwise. That they can get to wherever their abilities can take them. And with that, they and countless others in the Navy now have a wonderful role model in Michelle Howard."
Howard, a 1978 graduate of Aurora, Colorado's Gateway High School and a 1982 U.S. Naval Academy graduate, is used to blazing a path for women in the military. When she took over command of the U.S.S. Rushmore
in 1999, she became the first African-American woman to manage a ship in Navy history. During her service, she commanded amphibious squadrons, strike groups and task forces as well as served in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Stars and Stripes
She received her master's degree in military arts and sciences in 1998 from the Army's Command and General Staff College.