2013 Vice Adm. James Stockdale Leadership Award honorees Cmdr. Leif Mollo and Cmdr. Richard Massie. (Navy)
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Fleet Forces Command: Cmdr. Leif Mollo
■Unit: Commanded Little Creek, Va.-based SEAL Team 8 for two years and SEAL Team 4 for seven months. Now assigned to Navy Personnel Command.
■Bio: 42 years old. Naval Academy Class of 1992. From Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. Served five tours on SEAL teams, according to personnel records.
■Top awards: Bronze Star Medal with combat “V” device, Combat Action Ribbon, the Bronze Star Medal twice, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal and seven Commendation Medals.
Pacific Fleet: Cmdr. Richard Massie
■Unit: Has commanded the ballistic-missile submarine Maine’s gold crew since June 2010.
■Bio: 43 years old. Naval Academy Class of 1993. From Spring, Texas. Has served aboard the attack subs Helena and La Jolla and the guided-missile sub Ohio.
■Top awards: Two Meritorious Service Medals, four Navy Commendation Medals and two Navy Achievement Medals, according to personnel records.
Like all good leaders, this year’s recipients of the Vice Adm. James Stockdale award — the service’s most prestigious leadership honor — direct all the credit to their shipmates.
“I am very proud of my crew and their accomplishments,” said Cmdr. Richard Massie, the commanding officer of ballistic-missile submarine Maine, who won the leadership prize for the Pacific Fleet, in an email. “Far more than anything I have personally done, this award is another validation of their consistently strong performance over the course of the three-plus years I’ve been privileged to be in command.”
Cmdr. Leif Mollo, the former CO of SEAL Team 4, was the Fleet Forces Command recipient of the award, given annually to two O-5 COs who personify the leadership of Stockdale, a naval aviator downed over Vietnam who led the resistance against their captors.
Mollo, a combat veteran, is the first SEAL to win the Stockdale award in six years. Officers must be nominated by eligible peers, who also held operational command posts during the award timeframe, before they are chosen by a panel.
Mollo did not know he was even up for it. Then, late on Sept. 26, he got a text from a former shipmate; the message was out, and Mollo was one of the two winners.
“I had no idea this was in the works,” he said in an Oct. 3 email to Navy Times. “It is a great honor and extremely humbling.”
Mollo credited his chiefs, officers and sailors for the award, saying it was a privilege to command SEAL teams; he served as the CO of SEAL Team 8 for two years before taking over SEAL Team 4 after its then-CO committed suicide. Mollo led SEAL Team 4 from December 2012 to July.
It was also a big day for submarine Maine. Both of the sub’s crews learned on Sept. 27 they had won the Meritorious Unit Commendation for their operational performance, including spending 349 days underway over a 14-month period. Hours later, they found out about the leadership award.
Massie said both awards are a testament to his crew.
“I have some exceptional crewmembers who are motivated to succeed and pull together to conquer adversity,” Massie, who was underway the week following the award, said in the email. “Quite simply, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if they weren’t so impressive.”
Massie took command in mid-2010 and has taken the boat on multiple strategic deterrent patrols during his 40 months in charge. The sub also earned its Battle “E” early this year for its readiness and performance in 2012.
“I do spend time with every individual sailor discussing what I think is important to make our crew and ship strong,” Massie told Navy Times. “Every sailor, no matter how junior, plays an integral role in the [strategic deterrence] mission.”
Massie was nominated by six fellow boomer COs — proof that he is well regarded by many in the sub force, another CO said.
“He is a person who’s very mission-focused,” said Cmdr. Bill Johnson, the CO of Maine’s blue crew, which swaps the sub back-and-forth with Massie’s gold crew. Maximizing the sub’s readiness comes down to coordination between the crews and teamwork, Johnson explained. “He has a strong understanding of teamwork.”
Massie said the keys to being a successful leader are “treating everyone with dignity and respect,” avoiding arrogance and over-confidence and encouraging back-up. “None of us, and certainly not me, is good enough to do this job correctly 100 percent of the time,” Massie added in the email.
Mollo believes a successful leader clearly explains what he or she expects — and then gets out of the way.
“Understand that you serve those you lead — not the other way around,” wrote Mollo, who’s now the naval special warfare detailer at Navy Personnel Command. “Set the example. Be yourself; be humble; be human; demonstrate balance; build trust. Establish commander’s guidance/left and right limits, but then allow the professionals under your command to come up with unique and innovative solutions to execute the mission. Enable your subordinate leaders to lead. Demonstrate mutual respect. Listen. Have the courage to understand when you need to change your position or adjust a decision if you made a mistake or were wrong. Heed the advice of the senior enlisted! Keep learning.”