Gateway High School graduate Michelle Howard is the Navy's first female four-star admiral

ARLINGTON, Va. - For the first time in the Navy's 236-year history, a woman will be pinned with a fourth star -- and she’s from Colorado. 

Vice Adm. Michelle Howard was promoted Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery, and will become the vice chief of naval operations, the service's No. 2 officer. 

Howard graduated from Gateway High School in Aurora in 1978 and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1982.

Howard has achieved many firsts in her career. She was one of the first women to attend the Naval Academy. She was the first black woman to command a ship -- the amphibious dock landing ship Rushmore in 1999. And now she is the Navy’s first female four-star admiral.

"If you don't believe today was a first, when I called to order four-star shoulder boards for women,  they didn't exist," Howard said during her ceremony. "You folks are seeing the first set in the history of the United States Navy."

At Tuesday's ceremony at Arlington Cemetery, Admiral Jonathan Greenert said he had no question she was the right person for the job.

"She will bear the burden of a role model and she will bear that well," said Adm. Greenert. "We need more women in the Navy."

Howard also has experience at the center of military action. She was at the Pentagon during the 9/11 terrorism attacks.

In 2009, Howard had just become the head of a Navy strike force in the Arabian Sea when a soon-to-be-well-known American sea captain was captured by Somali pirates.

"I was about three days into the job when we got word that Captain Phillips had been kidnapped," Howard said.

Howard now joins two other women to reach the four-star rank in the military -- one in the Army and one in the Air Force.