Cmdr. Chase Patrick, left, and Cmdr. Brian Sittlow are this year's recipients of the Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale Leadership Award. They were honored Nov. 27 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. (Colin Kelly / Staff)
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The Navy presented its most coveted leadership prize to a submarine skipper and a former destroyer captain at a Nov. 27 ceremony in the Pentagon.
Both winners of the Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale Leadership Award credited their crews — and their wives — with getting them where they are, despite tough inspections and grueling schedules.
"I was extraordinarily fortunate to have been selected to command [the destroyer] Chafee and to inherit a wardroom, [chief's] mess and crew staffed with potential," said Cmdr. Chase Patrick, the Pacific Fleet recipient, during his speech to an audience of 70 that included family, shipmates and top Navy officials. "Early on it was apparent to me that this ship really had the potential to be a great ship."
Cmdr. Brian Sittlow, the Fleet Forces Command winner who is still in command of the attack submarine Boise, also recognized his crew and called his wife, Leslie — who had worked closely with the families and the ombudsman on the sub's two cruises — "the glue ... that's held the ship together."
The annual event allows the Navy to showcase two of its best COs whose successes serve as a public counterpoint to the misbehavior of some of their peers, who have made headlines again this year.
Both Sittlow and Patrick stressed treating all members of their crews, regardless of rank, with respect.
Successful command comes from trust, emphasized Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert, a former Stockdale winner who mentioned the "T"-word repeatedly during his five-minute speech.
"It's integrity that imbues trust, and it's all about trust for us," Greenert told the audience. "We must trust one another as we go out and do the things we do at sea."
The Stockdale Award is unique in that officers must be nominated by eligible peers, in this case O-5s and below who command operational units, from ships and squadrons to salvage and SEALs. It is the third year in a row ship and sub COs have swept the awards. In addition to the CNO, past winners include Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Cecil Haney and the head of Naval Reactors, Adm. John Richardson, who attended the ceremony.
How they lead
This year's winners had faced challenges. Sittlow, the Boise skipper, took his 150-man crew on two six-month deployments, which is unusual for a sub CO's tenure. Yet on the 2010 deployment, the sub had no "lost mission days," and no crew members were medically evacuated, the ship's former executive officer recalled. The sub returned to Naval Station Norfolk, Va., from its latest deployment on Nov. 8.
That success was possible because Sittlow built a team on Boise. He memorized every crew member's hometown and favorite football team and threw in an interesting fact when he introduced a new arrival to the crew, said the former XO.
"Every guy, no matter how junior, felt they were part of the team," said Cmdr. John Croghan, who served as Boise XO from 2009 to 2011 and attended the ceremony. "I left there knowing that you can do the job of commanding officer without having to be stressed out all the time," he said.
Sittlow, a 1993 Naval Academy grad, said the key to his success was recognizing the contributions of his crew.
"Accepting what we do is tough, it's difficult, it is a grind and just freely admitting the truth, to be honest, on what the guys are doing and recognizing them for their efforts," Sittlow said in an interview after the ceremony. "As long as they're recognized and understand that the boss appreciates what they do, I think as tough as it is, they'll accept it and continue to excel."
On Chafee, success also stemmed from a good command climate. As the incoming CO in 2010, Patrick's first order of business was to set a positive tone: no screaming, no anger, no swearing. That harms morale and discourages sailors from doing their best, the former skipper said.
"As I told my officers and I told my chiefs, we should be trying to maximize the potential of the people who work for us," Patrick, now the surface community manager in Millington, Tenn., said in an interview. "The only way we're going to do that is if we make them the very best professionals that we can. And so if you have an atmosphere, a climate where we're yelling at each other, four letter words, on and on, are we really growing our people the way they need to be grown?"
Patrick, a 1994 University of Virginia grad commissioned through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, led Chafee for an 18-month period that included a 7th Fleet deployment, an overhaul, and the inspections and work-ups afterward.
But his biggest legacy may be his command style.
"It was that feeling of respect that created a safe environment for everyone to thrive, from the most junior sailor up to the wardroom," recalled Lt. Matt Biggerstaff, who earned his SWO pin under Patrick during his three-year tour on the destroyer.
"A lot of those lessons I learned under him will be the same things I bring back when I return to the fleet," Biggerstaff said.