Official websites use .mil
Secure .mil websites use HTTPS
Good morning, everyone!
It’s great to see everybody here. What an amazing day, and what an amazing opportunity this is. So thank you so much for making the time, braving the visitor entrance office through the Pentagon to be here this morning. But, really, it is an incredible moment, and I really appreciate you being here to help us recognize and celebrate the achievements of two incredible leaders and amazing officers.
This is truly one of the greatest perks of my job – to reward those who have given the full range of their physical, their mental, their emotional capacities to their crew, to their the mission, and to our Navy.
As Senior Chief said, it is fitting that we give this award here in the Hall of Heroes, where the names of more than 3,110 recipients of the Medal of Honor, which is our nation’s highest award, are inscribed on the walls around us. Each one of these Sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Marines … from across the rich fabric of America – and spanning every chapter of American history since the Civil War – they all displayed gallantry in action, extraordinary heroism, leadership, and unwavering devotion to their nation … all above and beyond the call of duty.
And among the names on the wall – to my left… and on the corner – is the name of Adm. James Bond Stockdale, a fighter pilot who was shot down and captured a month after the Gulf of Tonkin incident … and who endured seven and a half years of captivity at the Hỏa Lò Prisoner of War camp in North Vietnam.
As the camp’s senior officer, Stockdale established a code of conduct amongst the fellow P.O.W.s and led what would become a covert resistance movement to delay, disrupt, and deny the North Vietnamese plans. And he did this often at the risk of his own life.
His inspirational leadership and commitment to his country imbued his fellow P.O.W.s with the strength, the courage, the connection, and the resilience to withstand the trials of their imprisonment and continue their resistance.
Earlier this year I had a chance to meet Capt. Plummer and Adm. Shoemaker – two times this year – our amazing Navy band did a tribute to Vietnam veterans this year, and the 50th anniversary of our last combat veterans being in Vietnam. And both of them highlighted how much of what Adm. Stockdale did meant to them, meant to their connection, and their ability to withstand all of the horrors and the torture they were undergoing every day. And so it really brings home why we do this award, and how important it is that you’re recognized by your peers. Because he was their peer – he was a leader of peers – and, again, it is really significant that we’re having this in this 50th anniversary.
For his indomitable spirit, for his conspicuous gallantry, and for his extraordinary courage, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
In keeping with his example, each year – since 1980 – we present the Stockdale Leadership award, which is a peer-driven award, “for personal and professional excellence in leadership” – to two commissioned officers, as you see here today, … one representing the Atlantic Fleet and one representing the Pacific Fleet … for the highest standards of excellence.
So, again, I’m super happy to be able to deliver these awards today. And I think it’s really more meaningful, when you think about it, this is 50th anniversary of when the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam.
What makes this award so unique – we have a lot of awards in the Navy – but this is the only one we have where unrestricted line officers who are eligible for the award themselves can nominate their peers for consideration. They are asked to nominate their teammates, their colleagues who inspire them the most professionally and personally.
So it is the absolute honor today to award 2023 Vice Admiral James Stockdale Award to two submariners: Captain Jeff Fassbender and Commander David Burke.
So I’ll start with Cmdr. Burke. Dave is our winner from Atlantic Fleet. He is joined today by his wife, Jenny. And their children, Oliver and Charlotte, are home in St. Johns, Florida, with their grandparents.
Dave was the Commanding Officer of USS Rhode Island (Gold) from May 2021 to August 2023.
Under his leadership, the Rhode Island was busy, and it won the 2022 Battle Effectiveness Award – an award that recognizes select crews for their overall readiness to execute a combat mission. They also won the USSTRATCOM 2022 Omaha Trophy as the best of 14 Ballistic Missile Submarines, and ranked at the very top of our People Centered Metrics – it’s a Navy assessment that measures how well leaders care for their people.
He led his team on Rhode Island through three strategic deterrence patrols and through an alert period when Russia invaded Ukraine. And it was an interesting story to learn how he actually found out about that – when you’re on a submarine, on patrol. It even makes you think harder about what it takes to lead in that type of environment. You did this all by enforcing high standards, by trusting and teaching your team, by staying humble, and by always remaining committed to warfighting excellence.
Dave, it’s my understand that, at your core, you are a teacher and mentor. You made each Sailor feel like an integral part of the team, that their training and their contributions to the mission made a difference. One junior officer said the best part of deployment was the Sunday night JO professional development session that Dave reserved on the schedule. You spent most nights teaching them tactics and providing career advice … but sometimes you would “mentor” them in cribbage … giving them some first-hand instruction on how to win … every time. And I’m sure you won… every time.
Dave’s love for teaching did not stop at the wardroom, it extended to the deck plates. He and I share the same command philosophy of walking around and talking to the crew every day. Dave would often be found roaming the boat, observing his Sailors standing the watch, providing them direction if there was any ambiguity, and empowering them to achieve higher level qualifications, and really being open and transparent, talking about what he knew, what was going on, and really being their connection to the outside world.
Dave, I know you’re also a steward – you take care of your men and women. According to your chief of the boat, Master Chief Mark Rosario – who I had the pleasure to serve with once upon a time as well, your kindness and humility and care for your Sailors created an environment of trust. You knew that teams function best when they respect each other. So onboard Rhode Island, it was natural for you to lead the successful integration of female officers into the crew, to include the first Direct to Department Head female submarine officer.
Dave understands the importance of building exceptional teams because he is a warfighter … first and foremost. Dave knows the tactics, the procedures, and had the warfighting focus to ensure his boat was always ready and always lethal. And he wanted his crew to have the same focus he had. Because of that, the crew understood really their “why” and embraced their underlying mission ... strategic deterrence. It’s a mission that is one of the most important ones we have as a Navy. Their hard work and commitment to excellence paid off. Let me give you just two examples.
First, Rhode Island was able to successfully and safely complete two Strait of Gibraltar transits with only one operational Inertial Navigation System (INS). So I think that must be like operating with one hand behind your back, with just one eye – just trying to translate that to someone who never had to serve with an INS. This is an abnormal condition, to be clear, because it’s really dangerous in the Strait of Gibraltar. We’ve had a lot of challenges in the Strait of Gibraltar – and not just on submarines – but also on surface ships, so a lot of danger of navigating under water without a backup system. With Dave’s oversight, the crew conceptualized and demonstrated a new operating procedure to execute that transit with only that one operable system. It’s an absolutely impressive feat that required creative problem-solving. His operating procedure that they developed is now taught to all submariners … thanks entirely to Dave’s leadership and the spirit and ingenuity of your crew.
Second, when a weather system threatened to delay your boat’s deployment, Dave sortied Rhode Island from King’s Bay, Georgia – which is the boat’s homeport – almost a week earlier than scheduled. With less than a day’s notice, only one tug, 40+ knot winds over the bow, and a 7- degree crab angle – the difference between your heading and track – Dave safely guided his boat through the very much meandering St. Mary’s River. At the time, the pilot said the transit was nearly impossible given such bad weather conditions. But, again, Rhode Island crew’s executed the transit flawlessly … knowing well that they had a master ship-handler in you.
Admiral Stockdale wrote about the importance of leaders giving those around them, and I quote, “a sense of perspective … and setting the moral, social, and particularly the motivational climate among his followers.”
That’s exactly what Dave did with his team. Congratulations Dave. You are most deserving of this award.
Now, I would like to recognize our winner from the Pacific Fleet … Captain Jeff Fassbender. He is joined by his wife Julie. His daughter Noelle is visiting with her grandmother for a few days.
Jeff was the commanding officer of USS Seawolf from May 2021 to May 2023. Under his leadership, Seawolf won three straight Battle Effectiveness Awards, the 2020 Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy for outstanding improvement in the battle effectiveness competition from the previous year, and also the 2021 Marjorie Sterrett Battleship Fund Award, which is given for the best scores in the battle efficiency competition in the Pacific Fleet. Additionally, Seawolf had the highest OPTEMPO – the highest operational tempo – more underway time – than any other submarine in the fleet. He executed a 2021 surge deployment, a 2022 deployment to the Indo-Pacific region, and prepared Seawolf for its 2023 deployment.
Throughout his command tour, Jeff looked at everything through a warfighting lens. For example, he always tested the tactical and operational limits of Seawolf. During Jeff’s first week at sea, the crew executed more torpedo evasions and emergency dives than they had on their entire previous deployment.
Jeff frequently quoted John Paul Jones … “give me a fast ship for I intend to sail into harm’s way,” … and this was embraced by the crew every day.
For Jeff, the adjective “fast” did not necessarily mean speed, although that was important. It meant the boat was well-maintained, lethal, and tactically proficient in all of its various mission sets.
But, his passion for tactics and winning didn’t stop in submarine warfare. When he wasn’t on the bridge or in combat, Jeff also enjoyed playing cribbage with his officers and sailors. Some called him “ruthless” … others said he would deliberately miscount his opponent’s points. And, on bad days, his chief of the boat, Master Chief Christopher Purdum, who is here today, would let Jeff win to boost his morale.
All kidding aside, Jeff is humble, compassionate, and selfless. When describing Jeff, each of his Sailors – regardless of rank – stated that he is the embodiment of a servant-leader, prioritizing his Sailors above all else. He invested in his people, empowered those around him, permitting junior Sailors to achieve higher level qualifications, and he pushed ownership of the boat to the deckplates. He allowed the crew to make mistakes and learn from them.
Jeff’s focus on teaching and mentoring his sailors paid big dividends. When Jeff assumed command, Seawolf was #35 on the SSN list for People Centered Metrics, again, the thing that ranks how well we take care of our people. When he left, it was #2. But, if you were to ask Jeff, he would say he had nothing to do with the boat’s successes ... that it was his Sailors who did all the heavy lifting.
He got the crew’s buy-in early on … another of my own command leadership principles I stress to prospective commanding officers. And he, again, was able to ensure every member of the crew could connect their dot to the mission. He knew the Seawolf team would give 100% if he explained the situation, explained the decision, and explained the rationale – even if it was bad news or it meant more work. And, because of this, the Seawolf crew always wanted to do the really hard stuff. They wanted to deploy, they wanted stay out on station, and they wanted to operate forward to protect the nation’s national security interests.
When Jeff learned of Seawolf’s extension in early 2021, after months of underway time in the Indo-Pacific, he immediately notified his Seawolf team, he explained that their potential extension would be indefinite, and allowed them the night to reflect on the news before carrying on with their new orders. He understood well the human impact of such an announcement, knowing that his Sailors had already been separated from their families for some time and really needed a rest.
Admiral Stockdale wrote, “leadership takes compassion … it requires knowledge and character and heart to boost others up and show them the way.” Jeff demonstrated this leadership principle, and the next day … and every day after … the crew was ready to take the fight to the enemy and win. They lived up to the command motto: “Beware the wolf.”
Jeff, you did all that. Commander Baugh of USS Connecticut, a fellow Seawolf-class commanding officer, stated that you set the standard for the saying “wear command well.”
Jeff, congratulations. You are most deserving of this award.
I also know, Jeff and Dave, that you couldn’t do all that you did without the love, support, and encouragement of your spouses … Julie and Jenny.
The story of Adm. Stockdale is also the story of Sybil Stockdale, his wife, and all she did stateside, and in Congress, at town halls, and at home during this really difficult period for her personally, and for the families of everyone who was in a similar situation. While Adm. Stockdale was held prisoner, Sybil remained absolutely loyal to her husband and remained very strong for their two children. She founded the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in South East Asia … advocating for the release of not only Adm. Stockdale, but for all prisoners of war. She educated the American public on the mistreatment of all P.O.W.s in North Vietnam. And, she helped change American policies concerning P.O.W. families.
For all that she did, Sybil Stockdale received the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award. And, additionally, the Navy’s ombudsman of the year award is named in her honor.
Julie and Jenny, I know how hard it is to be a military family. I know it is very difficult to be a military spouse. I’ve said it many, many times that our Navy readiness is dependent on our family readiness, and our families are the glue that holds are Navy together. We are grateful for everything that you do, and I know it’s much harder to be the parent that stays home than the one who gets to go out and do what it is that we get to do every day, and I really want to sincerely thank you for all that you do every day to support your sailor, but really to support our Navy families, and every command that you have served in.
Together, Admiral James and Sybil Stockdale wrote a book titled “In Love and War: the Story of a Family's Ordeal and Sacrifice during the Vietnam War” … a book that details the odyssey of love, sacrifice, and turmoil they went through during those harrowing seven and a half years. The Stockdales left the Navy with a combined legacy of love to their country, their shipmates and friends, and to each other.
Today, we will present a copy of this book to each of our families here today to acknowledge that this award represents a team effort.
In closing, let me again acknowledge all the families and all of the support networks, friends, shipmates, and peers here today – and those who couldn’t be here today but are here in spirit – to support of Dave and Jeff. Thank you for all that you do. I know you all share that same commitment that I do to our Constitution, to our nation, and to our Navy, and to the mission that we get to do – that we have a privilege to do – every day. We all could not do our job if we weren’t part of a great team, and I appreciate you, your support to this team here, and all that you do for our Navy and for our nation.
With the decisive decade that we’re living in today, and an ever changing strategic landscape, I am confident that our Navy will remain the world’s preeminent warfighting force because of warfighters like those that we have in this room with us today.
Adm. Stockdale said “our changing times demand the kind of person who can lead in troubled times.” Each of your crews said that they would have no other CO in wartime than each of you, and that if they had to go to war tomorrow, each of you would be their first choice.
Jeff and Dave, both of you are natural leaders “to whom others have instinctively turned to in times of crisis.” Both of you are hardened by years of adversity in command. And, both of you are the transformational leaders we need … according to Adm. Stockdale … “who can implant high-minded needs in place of self-interested wants in the heart of their people.”
Adm. Stockdale set the standard for professional and personal excellence and leadership. Both of you have lived up to that standard and upheld our Navy core values of honor, courage, and commitment … and in doing so, you have inspired me, and our next generation of leaders.
So, again, thank you for what you do, and congratulations!
Adm. Lisa Franchetti
16 November 2023
Subject specific information for the media
Events or announcements of note for the media
Official Navy statements
Given by Navy leadership
HASC, SASC and Congressional testimony
Google Translation Disclaimer