The Navy's two top skippers credited their sailors as they received the Navy's top leadership award at the Pentagon Tuesday.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson awarded Cmdr. Gary Montalvo, skipper of the attack submarine North Carolina, and Cmdr. Ken Kleinschnittger, former CO of EOD Mobile Unit 12 the Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale Award for Inspirational Leadership, commending both for exceptional command tours.

The award is named for Stockdale, a Vietnam POW who earned a Medal of Honor for leading a resistance campaign against his North Vietnamese captors.

In his remarks after receiving the award, Montalvo said the sailors coming into the Navy have been given an unfair shake, saying that stereotypes about millennials don't capture their capabilities.

"A lot of folks worry about these millennials, as I’m sure a lot of folks worried about me as Generation X coming into the Navy," he said. "But I don’t worry about them because I see what they come up with. They surprise me every day from complex operational plans to completely out-of-the-box repairs to keep the ship underway. I look forward every day to what they have to offer me."

In an interview after the ceremony, Montalvo said he was referring to a repair during a 2015 deployment that would have sent most ships back into port.

"My crew came up with an ingenious repair that if you had asked me, I would have said it was time to abort," he said. "They showed me an out that I could not have conceived."

Kleinschnittger spoke of the honor of being associated with the memory of Vice Adm. Stockdale, who he said inspired him as a midshipman at the Naval Academy, and said he felt unworthy of the honor.

"The one thing I can find comfort in … is that I can find peace in the fact that I can accept this award on behalf of the folks of Mobile Unit 12 and the EOD community," he said.

After the ceremony, Kleinschnittger said he was still coming to grips with the honor, which has been a major milestone in many of the Navy’s senior leaders’ careers throughout the years.

"This is beyond any expectation I ever had as a kid, as an adult, even last night having dinner with the CNO it wasn’t sinking in," Kleinschnittger said. "And I hope it never does. I hope I never feel like I’ve earned this."

The annual award is presented to two commissioned officers O-5 and below who lead unrestricted line commands and are "examples of excellence in leadership and conspicuous contribution to the improvement of leadership in the Navy," according to award criteria. Nominations were submitted by fellow commanding officers who were also eligible for the award.

A board of senior officers then measured nominees against the leadership ethos of the late Stockdale. Past winners include Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson; the former CNO, retired Adm. Jon Greenert; retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Adm. Cecil Haney, the former head of U.S. Strategic Command.

The two were chosen out of eight finalists for this year's award to represent Pacific Fleet and Fleet Forces Command The North Carolina is homeported in Pearl Harbor and the "Dirty Dozen" of EODMU 12 is based in Virginia Beach, Va.

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

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