Rear Adm. Michelle Howard commands US Navy’s 6th Fleet
Navy Rear Admiral Michelle Howard heads the U.S. 6th Fleet, America’s Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Allied Joint Forces Command (JFC), in Naples, Italy
In this 2009 photo, Rear Adm. Michelle Howard, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group Two, commends the crew of the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) during ship’s return to Norfolk after a three-month deployment in the Southern Command area of responsibility supporting Southern Partnership Station-Amphib. Photo: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Andrew McCord/Released
Navy Rear Admiral Michelle Howard commands one of most awesome alliances of U.S., allied military power in history
NAPLES, Italy — President Obama was responsible for one act of executive power that forever changed the face of American military power and readiness with the 2016 nomination of the Navy’s highest-ranking woman to lead U.S. Navy forces in Europe and Africa, which includes the Mediterranean Sea in the volatile Middle East.
Navy Admiral Michelle Howard was tapped to head U.S. 6th Fleet, America’s Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Allied Joint Forces Command (JFC), in Naples, Italy, and it scarcely registered a blip in the nation’s news feeds. The majority of Americans did not know of this significant event in American history in which Howard would go on to command one of the most awesome alliances of U.S. and allied military power in the history of the world.
Howard originally took command at JFC Naples headquarters on June 7, 2016.
The 29th commander of JFC Naples, Howard assumed command from Adm. Mark Ferguson, who is slated to retire from the Navy. Howard previously served as the 38th vice chief of Naval Operations.
A 1982 Naval Academy graduate, Howard has had a storied career. She was the first African-American woman to command a U.S. warship and would later oversee the counter-piracy task force that freed civilian Capt. Richard Phillips, which was the subject of the movie “Captain Phillips.” She also was the first woman to reach the rank of 4-star admiral.
“I would like to state my appreciation to Naples, Italy as our host community,” said Howard during her remarks to the crowd. “You have treated us like family for over six decades, and your support is a key enabler to our mission success.”
The commander of JFC Naples is one of two subordinate Joint Force commanders to NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. As commander of JFC Naples, Howard’s primary mission is to be prepared to conduct the full range of military operations throughout the NATO area of responsibility in order to deter aggression, defend NATO territory and forces, safeguard freedom of the seas and economic lifelines, and to preserve the security of NATO nations.
As commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, Howard is responsible for leading full spectrum maritime operations in concert with allied, coalition, joint, interagency and other partners to advance U.S. interests while enhancing maritime security and stability in Europe and Africa. Howard pledged to lead the formation with the same strength, resolve, and readiness that the troops of JFC Naples have demonstrated in the past.
“Your work has made my first direction and guidance simple: Steady as she goes. Full speed ahead,” Howard said.
To put the awesome power of the 6th Fleet into context, the armada is comprised of up to 40 ships, 175 aircraft, and 21,000 sailors and marines.
The fleet typically has a number of frigates and destroyers, nuclear submarines assigned, as well as those vessels transiting between the East Coast and the Suez Canal. Since 2005, Sixth Fleet ships have increasingly been operating around Africa, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea.
The Sixth Fleet is operationally organized into task forces. Naval Striking and Support Forces — one or more aircraft carriers, amphibious, landing, logistics, and special operations forces.
Each aircraft carrier battlegroup is accompanied with a complement of two to six cruisers and destroyers. On board the carrier is an air wing of 65-85 aircraft, the primary striking arm of the strike group, and includes attack, fighter, anti-submarine, and reconnaissance aircraft
Adm. Howard is a 1978 graduate of Gateway High School in Aurora, Colo. She graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1982 and from the Army’s Command and General Staff College in 1998, with a masters in military arts and sciences.
Howard’s initial sea tours were aboard USS Hunley (AS 31) and USS Lexington (AVT 16). While serving on board Lexington, she received the secretary of the Navy/Navy League Captain Winifred Collins award in May 1987. This award is given to one woman officer a year for outstanding leadership. She reported to USS Mount Hood (AE 29) as chief engineer in 1990 and served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. She assumed duties as first lieutenant on board the USS Flint (AE 32) in July 1992.
In January 1996, she became the executive officer of USS Tortuga (LSD 46) and deployed to the Adriatic Sea in support of Operation Joint Endeavor, a peacekeeping effort in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Sixty days after returning from the Mediterranean deployment, the Tortuga departed on a West African training cruise, where the ship’s sailors, marines and U.S. Coast Guard detachment, operated with the naval services of seven African nations.
Howard took command of USS Rushmore (LSD 47) on March 12, 1999, becoming the first African-American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy. Howard was the commander of Amphibious Squadron Seven from May 2004 to September 2005. Deploying with Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 5, operations included tsunami relief efforts in Indonesia and maritime security operations in the North Arabian Gulf.
She commanded Expeditionary Strike Group Two from April 2009 to July 2010. In 2009, she deployed to CENTCOM theater, where she commanded Task Force 151, Multi-national Counter-piracy effort, and Task Force 51, Expeditionary Forces. In 2010, she was the Maritime Task Force commander for BALTOPS, under 6th Fleet.
Her shore assignments include: J-3, Global Operations, Readiness and executive assistant to the Joint Staff director of Operations; deputy director N3 on the OPNAV staff; deputy director, Expeditionary Warfare Division, OPNAV staff; senior military assistant to the secretary of the Navy; chief of staff to the director for Strategic Plans and Policy, J-5, Joint Staff, deputy commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, deputy chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans & Strategy (N3/N5), and as the 38th vice chief of Naval Operations.