Thursday, November 1, 2018

My Salute to Service Story: Tiffany Circle Honoree, Michelle Howard

By Rose Ellen O'Connor, Volunteer

It’s the largest fundraising event of the year for the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region. This Salute to Service Gala is attended by over 600 military, government, corporate and community leaders every year and the money raised is transformed into the services delivered every day in our community by the Red Cross. We hope you will join us for an inspirational evening on Saturday, November 10 at the Hilton McClean Tysons Corner.

Admiral Michelle Howard, who retired December 1st, will be feted as the distinguished woman warrior honoree by the local Tiffany Circle. The Tiffany Circle is a society of women leaders and philanthropists who donate $10,000 annually to the American Red Cross, and who each year nominate a deserving woman for this award. Each of the women follow in the footsteps of a long line of women leaders who have helped the Red Cross serve the American public in times of war and peace with disaster assistance, blood collection, safety training, support to the military and other community assistance services. The award is given to an active duty or retired service woman who best exemplifies the traits of leadership, strength and service.

Admiral Howard was the first woman to retire as a four-star admiral, the highest rank of that post. With the accomplishments of first African-American woman to command a Navy ship, leader of tsunami relief efforts, and vice chief of naval operations destined to become part of her resume, Admiral Howard never dreamed she’d become a four-star admiral when she was graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1982. It had only opened to women in 1975.

“You have to consider the context of the times,” she says, noting that she was at the academy from 1972 to 1978, and the first woman one-star admiral was commissioned in 1972. By 1978, there were two more. “I don’t think any woman would have had a dream or an expectation that she would go beyond the rank of two-star because it hadn’t happened yet,” she says.

Just five years after graduating from the academy, in May 1987 while serving aboard the USS Lexington, she received the Navy/Navy League Captain Winifred Collins award. It is given once a year to a woman officer for outstanding leadership.

Admiral Howard became the first African-American woman to command a ship in the Navy on March 12, 1999, when she took command of the USS Rushmore. It was just one year after she had graduated from the Army’s Command and General Staff College with a master’s in military arts and sciences.

“I would say the biggest thing was that when I took command I got a lot more media than my mail counterparts because of the significance of the event,” she says. “There were many different reporters who were there to witness it and who wanted to interview me.”

She was the commander of Amphibious Squadron 7 from May 2004 to September 2005. Her ship was headed to the Middle East when it was rerouted to Indonesia for tsunami relief efforts
“It was almost overwhelming,” she says. “The debris that consisted of what was left of life: human beings, pets, buildings, furniture, toys piled up to the second-story level of many buildings that looked like they’d been bombed out. The survivors of all that were in these huge camps and the most immediate need was getting them food and clean water. So, working with the Indonesian army, we just organized ourselves and started pushing as much relief support as we could. We just worked around the clock.”

Her shore assignments included senior military assistant to the Navy Secretary, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, and the 38th vice chief of naval operations.
Admiral Howard first became interested in the military when she watched a documentary on service academies as a young girl. Luckily, the academy opened up to women when she was a teenager and she zeroed in on the Naval Academy. She says she’s honored to be celebrated by a component of the American Red Cross, which does so much for the military.

“Well, it was certainly unexpected,” she says. “The Red Cross has always been a tremendous supporter of the Armed Forces. For the Navy, they’re just fantastic to provide emergency communications for our sailors. When there’s something going on in the family, they make sure that word gets through to the sailor. And so, at this point in my life, to be recognized by them is quite an honor.”

Others who will be honored at the Salute to Service include:

  • Lifetime of Service Award: David Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Chairman, The Carlyle Group
  • Corporate Hero Award: Amazon, accepted by Teresa Carlson, Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector, Amazon Web Services
  • Community Partner Award: AvalonBay Communities, Inc., accepted by Sean Breslin, Chief Operating Officer, AvalonBay Communities, Inc.

For more information on the Salute to Service and for tickets, visit 

Thank you to our sponsors:
Presenting Sponsors: Amazon Web Services and AvalonBay Communities, Inc.

Lifetime of Service Award Sponsor: GTT Communications, Inc.

Tiffany Circle Distinguished Woman Warrior Award Sponsor: Cassaday & Company, Inc.

Platinum Sponsors: Emergent BioSolutions, Holland & Knight LLP, OptumServe, Pepco - An Exelon Company

Valet Sponsor: Pyramid Systems, Inc.

Heroes Sponsors: Ernst & Young, Hilton Worldwide, The J. Willard & Alice S. Marriott Foundation; STG International, Inc.

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