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Cmdr. Richard Massie, left, and Cmdr. Leif Mollo shake hands after receiving the Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale Leadership Award on Dec. 4. (Mike Morones/Staff)
Greenert presents Cmdr. Leif E. Mollo with the Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale Leadership Award (Mike Morones/Staff)
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon. Greenert presents Cmdr. Richard Massie, left, and Cmdr. Leif Mollo with theStockdale Leadership Award on Dec. 4 at the Pentagon. (Mike Morones/Staff)
The Navy recognized a former SEAL Team leader and a former ballistic missile submarine commanding officer Wednesday as the year’s top skippers — leaders who said the credit really belongs to their crews.
“It’s extremely humbling to be awarded for something that, to me, was clearly about the outstanding people that I was fortunate enough to serve as their commanding officer,” said Cmdr. Leif Mollo, the Fleet Forces Command recipient of the Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale Award for leadership, who won for his time commanding SEAL Teams 4 and 8. “I hope that the members of SEAL Team 4, SEAL Team 8 and Naval Special Warfare community, many of them here today, feel that they have ownership of this because the recognition belongs to them.”
Mollo and Cmdr. Rich Massie, the Pacific Fleet recipient, were honored at a ceremony in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes before an audience of roughly 60 shipmates, family members and top Navy officials, among them previous Stockdale winners Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and Adm. John Richardson, the director of naval nuclear propulsion. Mollo is only the second SEAL to receive the award in its 33-year history.
Given annually to two O-5 commanding officers, the Stockdale award is widely regarded as the fleet’s top leadership prize and is unique in that officers are nominated by other eligible COs. The annual ceremony is an opportunity for the Navy to showcase two of its best leaders, who this year were both Naval Academy graduates.
Massie helmed the Bangor, Wash.-based boomer Maine for an eventful three years. Massie led his crew on five strategic deterrent patrols, a time period that also included the gender integration of the sub force. Maine was one of the first four Ohio-class subs selected to receive a cadre of female submariners and Massie oversaw their integration and qualification on board the ship.
Massie set a climate for the female submariners and a female supply lieutenant to blend into the crew and get to work, said one former shipboard leader.
“His mantra throughout that entire process was treat everyone with dignity and respect,” recalled Lt. Cmdr. Eric Cole, who served as the sub’s executive officer for nearly two years, and who had come up from Millington, Tenn. to attend the ceremony. “We as a crew executed that flawlessly. All the officers and all the crew came together and it was, for lack of a better word, a non-event. The women came to work. They showed up and they did great.”
Cole described Massie as a family man and a leader who devoted time to mentoring his sailors and his junior officers.
The Maine’s blue and gold crews kept the sub underway a total of 349 days from January 2011, to March 2012, on deterrent missions and exercises and earned a Meritorious Unit Commendation — an award rarely given to individual boomers.
Massie, 43, is a 1993 academy graduate who is now the deputy commander of Submarine Squadron 19 in Silverdale, Wash. Massie had breakfast with the CNO and was joined at the ceremony by his wife, Melissa, his parents and his brother Kevin, an Air Force lieutenant colonel. Asked after the ceremony what it was like to win such a prestigious award, Massie said, “It’s incredibly humbling.”
Mollo, the SEAL leader, is a combat veteran who also has faced challenges. He led the Little Creek, Va.-based SEAL Team 8 for two years until he was unexpectedly ordered to take over SEAL Team 4 in December 2012, after the suicide of its then-commanding officer amid their deployment to Afghanistan.
“He brought a sense of calm and a sense of, ‘I’m not here to fix anything — I’m here to lead,’ ” said a chief warrant SEAL who served with Mollo in SEAL Team 4, and who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. “He literally brought a sense of calm and a sense of, ‘You guys got it. Go fight. Go take it to the enemy.’”
Mollo, 43, is a 1992 academy grad who has spent his 21-year career in the SEALs, receiving the Bronze Star Medal with combat ‘V’ device, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Bronze Star Medal twice, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and other unit and campaign awards.
The SEAL warrant officer described Mollo as an inspiring leader known for his ability to “remain calm in chaos,” adding he is a “quiet guy initially but once you get to know him you know that he’s a very open, friendly and generous guy.” He also is ribbed by teammates for his guitar plucking and love for 1980s hair metal bands.
Because Mollo is one of the two SEALs to ever win this inspirational leadership award, it was a big day for the community. More than a dozen Trident warriors mugged for a group photo afterward with Mollo, including Rear Adm. Brian Losey, the head of Naval Special Warfare Command.
But even on a day where he was center-stage, Mollo repeatedly emphasized that it was not about him. He sees his success as grounded in a simple philosophy: Telling his team what he expects and then getting out of the way.
“It’s humbling to see the level of talent not only on the officer side, but on the enlisted side,” Mollo said of the SEALs after the ceremony in an interview. “These are all people who over the last 10 years have been combat tested multiple times. So when you’re leading leaders, I think it’s one of those things where if you allow them to do their job and you give left and right limits and then just allow them to run, they do fantastic work.
“It’s amazing what they do when you allow them to do their job and just kind of give the direction but then stand back, let ’em work,” he continued.