After an illustrious, challenging, record-breaking career with the United States Navy, Captain Janice Smith has ‘uncovered’ one last time. She now faces her greatest challenge, retirement. The Navy celebrated Captain Smith’s retirement in Norfolk, Va, her home base. Over 200 loved ones and well-wishers attended the ceremony amid a rain storm that seemed as if the skies were either crying to say ‘goodbye’ or giving her one last wash to clean off 32 years of pressure.
Hailing from the small village of Edward Piece in St. Catherine, the little country girl has broken many barriers in her career. Captain Smith is the second black female to command a warship and the first person of colour to command the Military Sealift Command Atlantic. After twenty-four assignments, 13 deployments, 12 promotions, service to six presidents, and numerous awards, Captain Smith has laid the foundation for others to feel confident.
Rear Admiral Michael A Wettlaufer, commander of the Military Sealift Command, stood as the event’s guest speaker. Chronicling Captain Smith’s life in the military, he made the point that “it’s redundant to say that she has impressed all who she worked with through her professionalism, thoughtfulness, wit, and compassion. Importantly, Janice is courageous. Simply an amazing person.” Correspondingly, he spoke about all the support expressed by the attendance of all the people in the room and online. He stated, “Your presence magnifies the celebration for Janice, Julius, and their family and brings immeasurable warmth to this ceremony.”
The Impact of the Time Spent
He explained that “gathering for retirement is a time-honoured Navy tradition for which there are three distinct purposes.” The following are the purposes which Rear Admiral explained in detail.
1. To reflect on the service of an American patriot.
2. To honour the sacrifices that the retiree and her family made in the defence of freedoms.
3. To celebrate the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of the retiring Navy family.
Although a retirement ceremony focuses on the work of the retiree and the family, this story will focus on the impact that Captain Smith leaves wherever she goes. We spoke with many individuals who decided to show up for Captain Smith and wanted to know how their “heart of hearts” felt. Below is a collection of reflections by those people.
We start with her close friend and shipmate, who also played the role of Master of Ceremony at the celebration. “I was her Top Snipe (Lead Engineer). The impact of working with Capt Smith was profound. She was very detailed and demanded structure and procedural compliance. It was an easy day for me because I required the same. She was fair, firm, and impartial.” GSCM(SW) Paribia “Christy” Reed
Petty officer Delarene Smith of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, Nassau, Bahamas, was eager to express her feelings with us. She explained that working with Captain Smith motivated her because she looked at this “little Caribbean girl” running things. As a female, she felt empowered around Captain Smith.
“[Captain Smith] has been a mentor and a friend, and a sister to so many. And she does so selflessly, and she never asks for anything in return”. “I just speak from the heart. Right. But it’s really easy to do that when there’s someone sitting here that you absolutely love like a sister.” Captain Janet H Days
Reflections of a Lifelong Friend
Donna Williams grew up with Captain Smith in St. Catherine and wanted to express how the friendship impacted her.
I have been friends with Janice since grade seven. We were all new in a new environment, and needed to adjust from our different places of transition. Janice did not attend the same primary school I did, so it was all about making new friends. We became friends fast due to track meets and being in the same class. She was not a show off and anything like that, but of good spirt. She didn’t talk much. Even though we were in different houses at school we represented our school in netball and track. I must say that in every event Janice always won. She was also the top student our class. She did just about every sport on sports day.
This lady was school champion for many years, and if she lost any games she cried.
She has been and is still very determined. She loves to be first in every thing she does, hence her achievement is no surprise to me. [She has] always inspired me in school not to give up even through tears. I am extremely proud of her.Donna Williams – Life-long friend and schoolmate
Admin Officer Cristina Flores, CWO4, MSC stated that it was an honour to work with Captain Smith because of the barriers she overcame. She represented the perseverance needed to make it in a tough world, and she enjoyed watching her manoeuvre the system and situations with grace.
John F Kennedy Fuels Officer Allen Harris, CWO4, PCU is the only black naval officer in Air Department onboard PCU JFK. Having that position, watching Captain Smith represent minorities with resilience inspired him never to give up.
Well Done. Now what?
One thing is certain: the time in the Navy has come to a close. It’s time to don a new cover and move forward with confidence. The following is advice to Captain Smith from a careerlong friend and fellow Navy Captain, who is also a Jamaican.
“Take the time to lean against a palm tree to enjoy the sun and the share at the same time. Take the time to enjoy that good laugh at your mistakes, with the ones you avoided, and praise yourself for learning from them. Take the time to go out barefoot when it’s raining and simply enjoy it. Just don’t catch a cold. Take the time to swim in a river again and drink coconut water from the street vender. Take the time to bite into the fresh mango from the tree. (Only a few will understand) Finally, take the time to be brutally honest with the people around you and enjoy the good in them. Because while today is all about you, tomorrow you’ll get back to the business of making all about them.”Captain Errol Robinson
The most touching aspect of the celebration for Captain Smith did not happen during the ceremony. While standing in the back of the room after the ceremony ended and most people had left, a young black sailor stood beside me, watching the people in the room. His arms folded while he scanned the room of well-wishers, paying to random conversations. His only remark to himself was, “Damn! It is possible.”