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Rear Adm. Michelle Howard took command of the Navy's counterpiracy task force with incredible timing: Within three days of her April 5 turnover with outgoing Rear Adm. Terry McKnight, Somali pirates attacked the U.S.-flagged cargo ship Maersk Alabama and took its captain hostage.
Howard said she expected to be handed a full plate.
"It was full before I got here. I just got a little more exciting," she said in a telephone interview from the amphibious assault ship Boxer. "It's probably one of the most exciting missions the Navy has been on in for a long while."
While some call for more aggressive action against pirates pending some international solution ashore, Howard said the mission of Combined Task Force 151 will remain deterring and disrupting piracy off the Horn of Africa.
"Right now, the policy is, fight piracy, and I am all about that policy," she said. "We are quite capable of staying out here and doing this mission."
CTF 151 operates with U.S. warships deployed to the area as well as those sent from allied nations. Naval forces from Russia, China and Korea have also deployed to the area to protect civilian merchant ships from those nations.
She said she has been impressed with the naval cooperation in the region. "We don't ordinarily work with Russia and China."
Howard has been in the news before. In 1999, she became the first African-American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship, the dock landing ship Rushmore.