Captain Janet Days made history on Friday when she took command as Naval Station Norfolk’s 51st commanding officer. The 54-year-old Chicago native became the first African-American woman commanding officer in the 106-year history of the world’s largest naval base.
Days was the base’s executive officer. She relieved Captain David Dees, who will assume duties as the Chief of Staff for Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic.
Days’ father, George Hanks, also served in the military. “I watched a strong role model as I was growing up and it was in my father,” Days said. She and her siblings were put into foster care for some time during what she described as “some unfortunate instances” in her family. She would join the Army before later joining the Navy.
Days has been on tours aboard various ships, including USS Simon Lake, USS Mahan, and USS Forrest Sherman. According to Wavy.com, Days has deployed twice. The first was to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to conduct theater security cooperation and the second was to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility to conduct counter-narcotics operations. She was also executive officer and commanding officer of USS McFaul, deploying independently to the U.S. 6th and 5th Fleet Areas of Operation.
Days also deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan as the joint staff, J7 liaison officer to the International Security Assistance Force headquarters, Wavy.com said. She has also served as the director of maritime warfare at Surface Warfare Officers School, where she trained surface warfare department heads.
Before starting her naval career, Days graduated summa cum laude from Old Dominion University in 1999 with a bachelor of science in business. She also obtained a master of business administration from the Naval Postgraduate School and is a graduate of the Joint and Combined Warfighting School at Joint Forces Staff College.
Becoming Naval Station Norfolk’s commanding officer is huge considering that was impossible decades ago. Officer positions in the U.S. Navy were in the past not available to Black men. The Navy, in fact, suspended the enlistment of Blacks.
In January 1944 when sixteen Black men arrived for officer training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois, it was the climax of a four-year campaign by civil rights leaders, ordinary citizens and the black press, who had called on the Navy to change its segregated practices during World War II.
At the beginning of the war, Black men in the Navy were only allowed to hold jobs as cooks and cleaners. The Navy, said to have been the most segregated branch of the U.S. armed forces, did not think its Black members should mix with Whites.
Naval Station Norfolk where Days serves covers more than 6,200 acres. It has 326 tenant commands with over 600 facilities. Over 67,000 personnel, including military and civilian personnel, work there. With 13 piers and an 8,000-foot airfield, Naval Station Norfolk also supports 63 ships, 188 aircraft and 18 squadrons.