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Navy SEAL officer wins Stockdale award for leadership

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A Navy SEAL officer has received the prestigious Stockdale Award.

Commander Bradley D. Geary, a Navy SEAL officer from the U.S. Pacific Fleet, won the 2020 James Bond Stockdale Award for inspirational leadership alongside Commander William H. Wiley, a submarine officer, from the U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

Introduced in 1980 and named after Vice Admiral James Stockdale, the Stockdale award recognizes Navy officers who have demonstrated their leadership qualities both professionally and personally and have also contributed to the betterment of leadership in the service.

According to Admiral Stockdale, a leader must be a moralist, jurist, teacher, steward, and philosopher. And these are the attributes that are considered when deciding who receives the Stockdale Award.

Navy SEAL leadership
Navy SEALs preparing for a Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) exercise in Europe (DVIDS).

Admiral Stockdale was a naval aviator who was shot down over Vietnam. He spent eight years as a North Vietnamese prisoner, including a stint at the infamous Hanoi Hilton. He was a key figure in the prisoner resistance movement but suffered because of it. He was tortured numerous times and spent two years with iron shackles around his feet. Eventually, he was released in 1973. Because of his inspirational leadership against all odds, he received the Medal of Honor in 1976.

Every year, two officers, one from each coast, are chosen for the coveted award. Commander Wiley is the officer-in-charge of the USS John Warner (SSN 785), a fast-attack submarine based in Norfolk, Virginia. Although Commander Geary is assigned to Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, California, he won the award for his leadership while serving as the commanding officer of SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team One (SVDT 1) in Hawaii.

To be considered for the award, an officer has to have achieved at least the rank of Commander (O-5) and be in command of a vessel (ship or submarine), aviation squadron, SEAL Team (both regular and SDV teams), EOD unit, Navy Clearance team, or Dive unit. Although officers below the rank of Commander are technically eligible for the award, historically only commanders have received it.

Geary and Wiley, who were classmates in the Naval Academy and graduated in 2000, join a distinguished cohort of officers who have won the Stockdale Award. The list of winners includes a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, three Chief of Naval Operations, two Vice Chief of Naval Operations, and numerous admirals.

There were three finalists from the Pacific Fleet, and four finalists from the Fleet Forces, which is responsible for the Atlantic area of operations.  

Here is an interesting story about Geary. In the early 2000s, the Discovery Channel filmed a six-part series on how to become a Navy SEAL. Titled “Navy Seals Training: BUD/S Class 234,” the documentary followed the officer and enlisted candidates from day one to their graduation. Geary was one of the officers. According to the show, his nickname was the “Reverend” because he refused to curse out loud. Indeed, throughout the show, one can observe Geary’s quiet but commanding bearing.  

This isn’t the first public award for Geary for 2020. In March, the SEAL officer received the USO Special Salute Award.

Navy SEAL leadership
Commander Geary receiving the USO Special Salute Award from Admiral Michael Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations (DoD).

There are two SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams, one on each coast. SEAL operators assigned to these specialized units undergo additional training in order to operate the mini-submarines that characterize the SDV community. The primary roles of SDV Teams are underwater special operations and special reconnaissance.

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Stavros Atlamazoglou

Greek Army veteran (National service with 575th Marines Battalion and Army HQ). Johns Hopkins University. You will usually find him on the top of a mountain admiring the view and wondering how he got there.