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The announcement came in NAVADMIN 233/22, released Oct. 12.
The annual award recognizes commanding officers who demonstrate inspirational leadership both professionally and personally, while also contributing to the improvement of leadership in the Navy. It is peer-driven, as only those who are eligible for the award themselves are allowed to nominate others for consideration.
Thomas is the former commanding officer of the King Bay, Ga.-based ballistic missile submarine USS Alaska's Gold Crew (SSBN 732), which he led from May 17, 2019, to Nov. 22, 2021. He is currently assigned to Strategic Systems Programs in Washington, D.C.
Thomas, of Ann Arbor, Mich., is a graduate of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Michigan. Commissioned April 26, 2002, he is a career submariner with sea tours on four boats. Ashore he has done tours with the Department of Energy and at U.S. Strategic Command in Nebraska.
Keefe, of Cincinnati, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and was commissioned May 27, 2005. He is currently commander of the Guam-based Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit Five (EODMU 5).
After completing diving and surface warfare officer schools, Keefe first served as a Mine Countermeasure Crew Leader. In 2008, he qualified as an explosive ordnance disposal officer, and has operated in every geographic combatant command while countering improvised explosive devices, underwater mines and weapons of mass destruction, according to his official biography.
Ashore Keefe has been an instructor at the Naval Academy; an aide to then Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard at the Pentagon; and at Joint Special Operations Command as the EOD Branch Chief.
First awarded in 1980, the award is named for the late Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale, a Naval Academy graduate and naval aviator. On Sept. 9, 1965, Stockdale was commander of Carrier Air Group 16, flying from the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34). A veteran of over 200 combat missions at the time, Stockdale's A-4E Skyhawk was hit by enemy fire over North Vietnam. Forced to eject, he landed in a small village and was captured.
A prisoner for eight years, Stockdale was the highest-ranking naval officer among the Americans held captive in North Vietnamese prisons. Leading by example, Stockdale resisted his captors from the start, establishing a culture of defiance among the prisoners of war. His efforts to promote resistance led to him and ten other senior POWs being separated from the rest to break down the American chain of command among prisoners.
Frequently tortured, Stockdale spent two years in heavy leg irons and a total of four years in isolation. He didn't waver. He led the POWs' culture of defiance, finding ways to communicate and govern prisoner behavior, inspiring hope in his fellow captives.
His inspirational leadership continued throughout his imprisonment until his release in February 1973. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1976 and served as president of the Naval War College from October 1977 until August 1979.
Stockdale articulated five roles for a leader: moralist, jurist, teacher, steward and philosopher.
Eligible for the award are active duty Navy commanders and below who are serving in command of a single ship, submarine, aviation squadron, Sea, Air, Land team, naval special warfare squadron, SEAL delivery vehicle team, special boat team, explosive ordnance disposal mobile unit, mobile diving and salvage unit, or Navy special clearance team.
This year's selection board was presented with ten finalists, from which the two winners were selected.
The other eight finalists deserve special mention:
Pacific Fleet finalists:
Cmdr. Robert J. McDowell, Commanding Officer, USS JEFFERSON CITY (SSN 759)
Cmdr. Travis A. Montplaisir, Commanding Officer, USS HOWARD (DDG 83)
Cmdr. Eric M. Ponsart, Commanding Officer, Fleet Logistics Multi-Mission Squadron FIVE ZERO (VRM 50)
Cmdr. Joseph W. Snyder, Commanding Officer, Patrol Squadron FOUR SIX (VP 46)
U.S. Fleet Forces finalists:
Cmdr. Brian A. Forster, Commanding Officer, USS MILWAUKEE (LCS 5)
Cmdr. Alexander P. Armatas, Commanding Officer, Strike Fighter Squadron ONE ZERO FIVE (VFA 105)
Cmdr. Thomas H. Van Hoozer, Commanding Officer, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron FIVE (HSC 5)
Cmdr. Bennett M. Christman, Commanding Officer, USS NEW HAMPSHIRE (SSN 778)