Janet Cobb drove past the USS Alabama hundreds of times before her first visit in 1995. “I escorted a friend’s grandson aboard, ” the Baldwin County-raised Army Reserve Major General recalls, about when the duo walked the gangway. “I told him how my dad served on a Coast Guard Cutter. But this is a lot bigger.”
Today her association with the iconic Navy vessel is bigger still. She’s the new executive director.
Cobb brings a wealth of military background to the job she assumed in December. She graduated from the University of Alabama ROTC program and was commissioned in the U.S. Army Reserves in 1978. Her service decorations include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal and more, in a military career spanning 40 years.
And in civilian life, she commands a former WWII Battleship.
“I have a great mentor in Bill Tunnell, ” she says about the former director, who is retiring. “He has a vast store of knowledge in his head and excellent documented records.”
She is learning and takes the helm with a vision. This is not a desk job. “I will be very active, not just in the Mobile community, but throughout the state, in promoting our magnificent ship, ”
Cobb notes, from her unique office, fortified with strategically placed anti-aircraft guns.
Though the ship rests in Mobile Bay, it honors and belongs to the whole state, she says. “People in Huntsville, Decatur, the entire state, need to know this is their ship, too, ” she says.
But it’s even more than that, she says. “The Battleship is an icon, an attraction, but foremost, a veteran’s memorial, their spiritual home.”
And her job is more than PR. It is business, with careful attention to costs and maintenance. “The ship was only about 25 years old when it came to Mobile, in the early 1960s. It opened with over 30 maintenance workers. Today we have four.”
USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park is not a federal or state park and receives no such funding. Revenues derive mainly from admission tickets, parking fees and donations. However, Cobb takes command following a good 2015.
Last year, the park received 309, 352 visitors, generating $15 million. More than 25, 000 attended 268 park/ship events ranging from weddings to reunions. The ship and guests are served by 36 full-time and four part-time employees, plus two interns.
“Some have been here for decades, ” Cobb says. “They are dedicated people who love this ship.”
When possible, the director walks ship decks, greeting visitors, thanking them and perhaps offering to snap photos. “Most people do selfies, ” she says. “But I offer.” And she adds, “When a visitor tells us how much they’ve enjoyed being aboard, what was learned, and how great the experience was, that is the joy of working here.”
Text by Emmett Burnett