Admiral Howard served in the United States Navy for 35 years, after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1999, she became the first African American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy. She is the first woman to become a four-star admiral in the U.S. Navy (2014) and the first woman, and first African American to be appointed to the position of Vice Chief of Naval Operations, the second-highest ranking uniformed officer in the branch.
In 2016, Admiral Howard was appointed by the President to serve as commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, Africa and Allied Joint Forces Command in Naples, Italy, making her the first woman four-star admiral to command operational forces. She retired in 2017.
Michelle Howard was the Shapiro Visiting Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, from 2018 to 2020.