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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.
Burke is the commanding officer of the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Rhode Island’s Gold crew (SSBN 740), which he has led since May 2021. While in command, he has completed three strategic deterrent patrols with his crew.
Originally hailing from Midlothian, Illinois, Burke graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. In 2016, he completed an Executive Master’s of Business Administration through the Naval Postgraduate School.
Burke is a career submariner with sea tours on three boats, USS Nevada (SSBN 733), USS Seawolf (SSN 21), and USS Georgia (SSGN 729), completing deployments to the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. His ashore tours included serving at Navy Region Northwest, Navy Region Southwest, and U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Fassbender is the former commanding officer of the fast-attack submarine USS Seawolf (SSN 21), which he commanded from May 2021 to May 2023.
Fassbender was commissioned in the Navy through Officer Candidate School. In 2001, Fassbender graduated from Kansas State University with a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He also holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Villanova University School of Business.
Fassbender is also a career submariner with sea tours on three boats, USS Annapolis (SSN 760), USS Houston (SSN 713), and USS Bremerton (SSN 698), deploying multiple times to the Western Pacific. His ashore tours included serving at the Villanova University Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, Naval Submarine School, and the J8 Warfighting Analysis Division. Most recently, he served as Military aide to the President of the United States.
Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale
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 (SEAL) 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 seven finalists deserve special mention:
Pacific Fleet finalists:
Cmdr. Colleen E. Moore, Commanding Officer, USS MANCHESTER (LCS 14)
Cmdr. Jameel McDaniel, Commanding Officer, Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron SEVEN THREE (HSM 73)
Cmdr. John K. Garrett, Commanding Officer, Seal Team SEVEN
U.S. Fleet Forces finalists:
Cmdr. Richard T. McCandless, Commanding Officer, USS ALBANY (SSN 753)
Cmdr. Katie H. Jacobson, Commanding Officer, USS NITZE (DDG 94)
Cmdr. James R. Diefenderfer, Commanding Officer, USS THE SULLIVANS (DDG 68)
Cmdr. Patrick E. Blind, Commanding Officer, Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron SEVEN TWO (HSM 72)
The full announcement can be viewed in NAVADMIN 235/23: