Jamaican making waves on US Navy destroyer

U.S. Navy Commander Janice G. Smith shares a moment with fellow patriot holding a Jamaican flag after appointment ceremony in Norfolk.
Sharon Hay Webster

Whoever said the “sky is the limit” did not impress Jamaican Janice G. Smith.

She probably looked out at the horizon and then the ocean and decided on a different direction.

After enlisting in the U.S. Navy 27 years ago, Smith was recently appointed commander of a guided missile destroyer and became the first immigrant Jamaican to assume the helm.

Surrounded by friends, family and military personnel — and a few Jamaican cheer-leaders — the newly installed Navy commander relieved Commander Russel B. Sanchez — who hails from Clarksville, Texas — at a ceremony attended by past and present crew members and associates.

“It is a privilege and honor to command Oscar Austin, and I look forward to working with you over the next 18 months as we perform our nation’s tasking,” the newly installed Commander Smith said.

No other Jamaican has ever accomplished such a feat or made such a statement and on this occasion a huge Jamaican flag added to the colorful setting.

Smith grew up in the Morris Hall District of Saint Catherine, Jamaica. She attended and graduated from Bog Walk High School before moving north.

Along with her family, Smith immigrated to Florida in 1988.

One year after her arrival, she enlisted in the Navy.

Her first assignment in the branch of service was mess management specialist.

However, aiming higher than enlisted duty by 1997 she earned a commission through Officer Candidate School.

The ambitious feat was rewarded on May 2 at Naval Station Norfolk where she took command of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Oscar Martin (DDG 79).

She is only the second Black female to command a flight ship and Oscar Austin’s first female commanding officer.

Four years ago, Commander Monika Washington Stoker became the first African American woman to take command of a Navy missile destroyer.

And as far as U.S. Navy history details, it was only two years ago that Michelle J. Howard became the first female four-star admiral in the branch of military service.

Smith continued making history when she joined Oscar Austin nearly two years ago. She was named the ship’s executive officer — in civilian terms, that is second in command.

Oscar Austin is the first Flight II Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer and is currently in a training cycle in preparation for an upcoming deployment.

The class is named for Admiral Arleigh Burke, the most famous American destroyer officer of World War II.

The Marine Corps private also later elevated his service to become chief of Naval Operations.

By “fleeting up,” a term used to describe ascendency in the Navy, Smith will remain aboard as commanding officer for 18 months.

Of her ascendency in the seaworthy military branch, the newly appointed Smith told her ship-mates — “As a team we will continue to make our namesake, Pfc. Oscar Palmer Austin, United States Marine Corps, proud.”

For all the emerging pride in heritage, Jamaica might soon implement a month on the calendar to celebrate the trailblazing accomplishments of its outstanding citizens and immigrants.

While Caribbean Heritage Month is one month away, Jamaica-born Janice G. Smith is making waves and history becoming the first to command a US Navy destroyer.

Smooth sailing commander, long may you sail.

Yield! @ Carey Gabay Way… It’s a New Brooklyn Thoroughfare

Eight months after the murder of Caribbean national and political insider Carey Gabay was accidentally shot in Brooklyn, a street has been named in his honor.

The unveiling of Carey Gabay Way coincided with what would have been his 44th birthday.

Although bittersweet, family and friends gathered at the intersection of Clinton Hill’s Clinton Ave. between Willoughby and Myrtle Avenues to honor the public servant who assisted Gov. Andrew Cuomo in enhancing the lives of New Yorkers.

Public advocate Letitia James led a crowd to sing Stevie Wonder’s rendition of “Happy Birthday” and Brooklyn Councilmember Laurie Cumbo joined with Gabay’s family and friends for the unveiling last Sunday.

“Today, on what would have been his 44th birthday, we remember Gabay not only as an upstanding citizen, but as a hero in his own right who inspired others to pursue the American Dream,” Councilwoman Cumbo said.

“Now, when people look up at Carey Gabay Way, they will be inspired by and reminded of the great public servant who put the needs of working-class New Yorkers ahead of his own.”

“From public housing to public service, Carey Gabay embodied the American spirit and was a pillar of his community. Carey Gabay Way is a testament of his incredible contributions to the city and state of New York.”

Gabay’s widow Trennelle Gabay said “I am both deeply honored and thankful that when I walk out of (my) apartment building, (I will see) my beloved husband permanently etched into the history of the city that he loved.”

Platitudes were prevalent throughout the ceremony. Guests privately lamented the senseless gang shooting which claimed the life of Gabay, an innocent bystander who joined thousands for a pre-Labor Day, Caribbean, Jourvert celebration in Crown Heights last year.

Nine days after the shooting, Gabay died of his wounds.

“Carey Gabay was an exemplary public servant who dedicated his life to improving the world around him,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement.

“Carey’s life and work also reminds us that we must recommit ourselves to fight against gun violence that continues to plague our streets and our cities.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed that statement saying: “It’s safe to say Gabay epitomized the American Dream – a dream his Jamaican parents were in pursuit of when they immigrated to America.”

The city’s number one citizen made that statement when he announced the approval for a street naming in February and with city council members hastened the process that usually is prolonged by bureaucracy for longer than the five month period following Gabay’s death last September.

Street co-namings are a ceremonial way for the city and communities to recognize the contributions of prominent and influential community members after they have died.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said that “Carey represented the best that New York City has to offer, and lost his life while working on behalf of the community in Crown Heights. This co-naming will serve as a small, but enduring, tribute to his legacy as a proud son of Brooklyn who spent his life helping others.”

In making the decision to co-name a Brooklyn street in honor of the slain Brooklynite, the Council hailed Gabay’s experience as president of the Harvard University undergraduate student body as “an early indication of his commitment to public service and the betterment of his community, which he continued as assistant counsel for New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and later as first deputy counsel for Empire State Development Corporation.”

Gabay is survived by his wife Trenelle, his sisters Stephanie Gabay-Smith and Crystal Gabay-Nurse, his brother Aaron McNaughton, his mother Audrey Hylton, his father Nerval Gabay, and his step-father Rupert McNaughton.

The murderers are still at large and police released new photos in March of the men suspected of killing Gabay.

Councilmember Cumbo emphasized that “In honor of his life and legacy, we remain steadfast in our commitment to end gun violence.”

A $22,500 reward has been offered with $2,500 coming from Crime Stoppers for an arrest and indictment, $10,000 from the NYPD for arrest and conviction, and $10,000 from the mayor’s office for arrest and conviction.

Anyone with information regarding the unprovoked murder is asked to contact the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish 1-888-57-PISTA(74782).

The public can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at www.nypdcrimestoppers.com or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) and entering TIP577.

Catch You On The Inside!

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