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WASHINGTON – Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday recognized Navy Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) service member Capt. Adam J. Thomas as one of two recipients of the 2022 Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale Leadership Award during a ceremony in the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon Thursday, Nov. 17.
Recently promoted to Captain, Thomas was one of two honorees to receive the Stockdale Award, which is presented annually to recognize two commanding officers who demonstrate inspirational leadership in their personal and professional endeavors while also shaping and improving Navy leadership. Thomas was the Atlantic Fleet recipient and was joined by Cmdr. John "Jake" Keefe, the Pacific Fleet recipient.
Thomas earned this award for his exceptional deck-plate leadership as the former commanding officer of the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Alaska (SSBN 732) Gold crew. His nomination was endorsed by—not one—but eight other commanding officers of Commander, Submarine Squadron 20.
“For his accomplishments while in command, for his mentorship of his fellow COs on the waterfront, and for his ‘many contributions to improve the Ballistic Missile Submarine Fleet,’ Adam was nominated for the Stockdale Award,” said Gilday.
During the ceremony, Gilday described how significant SSBN readiness and operations are hallmarks of the most critical of the nation’s missions: strategic nuclear deterrence. USS Alaska—originally built for a service life of 30 years—was extended to 42 years by the Navy. As a result of this updated service-life requirement, a year-long extended overhaul period is typically required once every decade in which the boats undergo extensive system and equipment refits. As the commanding officer, Thomas was responsible for managing Alaska’s crew and its operations during the overhaul while also navigating adversities posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite facing this enormous pressure, Thomas met the challenge by motivating his crew—and ensuring their interests were among his top priorities—facilitating the on-time completion of this technical, detail-oriented process. At the end of the maintenance period, his flawless execution of duty ensured the boat and her crew were well-equipped to adequately perform their first deployment.
USS Alaska not only deployed but did so mirroring the same exceptionalism demonstrated by Thomas in his leadership.
“In the first year back in service, Alaska conducted the first transit to the Mediterranean Sea and first port visit to Gibraltar in over two decades,” Gilday said.
“They earned Submarine Squadron 20’s Battle ‘E’ for attaining the highest overall readiness for their wartime mission. And they also earned the U.S. Strategic Command’s ‘Omaha Trophy’ as 'the top ballistic missile submarine in the Navy.”
Thomas now translates that well-earned experience to SSP, where he serves as head of the Operations, Evaluations, and Training Branch (SP205). His work supports the operational testing of the SSBN’s strategic weapons systems (SWS) and training of related personnel to ensure SSBN SWS readiness and the credibility of SSP’s Sea-Based Strategic Deterrent (SBSD), the most survivable leg of the nation’s nuclear triad. His leadership provides a guiding light for his peers and for developing other leaders who will serve SSP’s national security mission.
“Being a submariner brings the necessary expertise to conduct missile flight testing operations, and to provide operational materials and training to improve the war fighting readiness of the fleet,” he said.
“Doing this job is also the most fun I can have without being on a submarine because I can improve both our submarines and the lives or our sailors daily.”
Thomas took commission April 26, 2002, after graduating the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Michigan. A career submariner, he has served sea tours on four boats and has also completed tours ashore with the Department of Energy and at U.S. Strategic Command in Nebraska.
“In my experience on submarines, I was always able to apply Admiral Stockdale’s teachings,” said Thomas.
“We can control our response to events and respond calmly and win—which is something I often said to my crews,” reminisced Thomas, who noted how being approachable and humble in response to bad news is the key to constant improvement.
“Admiral Stockdale always said, ‘Never confuse the faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality,’ which was a guiding principle for me during my command tour.”
In an era tested by increasing global strategic competition, America’s national security rests in the hands of leaders, like Thomas, who are proficient in shaping, developing, and driving critical missions forward. SSP relies on a culture of excellence that leverages and empowers its people to successfully design, develop, produce, sustain, and operate its strategic capabilities into the future.
“I am proud of the work Adam has done throughout his career to support the crucial sea-based strategic deterrence mission,” said SSP Director Vice. Adm. Johnny R. Wolfe Jr.
“SSP is privileged to have such high quality leaders in our ranks who ardently support our strategic weapons systems modernization efforts—with visionary leadership—that help us counter emerging and future threats.”
Recently celebrating its 67th birthday, SSP is immersed in efforts required to support the next generation of SBSD operations as it begins development of the Trident II D5LE2 missile system. The modernized missile system will be deployed on the Columbia-Class SSBN beginning with Hull 9, and initial work has begun to ensure the D5LE2 system is ready to meet the need on time.
“The SSBN is the most powerful warship ever created,” said Thomas.
“We are facing new challenges as we deploy the Columbia class and D5LE2. What makes us the greatest submarine force in the world is our ability to rapidly adapt and overcome challenges.”
Along with other leaders at SSP, Thomas is ready to take on the high-stakes responsibility as a change-agent within the organization and the Navy. Adm. Gilday, highlighted the character of such a leader at Thursday’s award ceremony with a closing note about the courage of each awardee.
“Communicating fearlessly up your chain of command, being honest with the Sailors that work for you, the Marines that work for you, and being willing to accept their feedback—while at the same time having the guts to make decisions by yourself in difficult situations—you have to be able to separate what’s important, from what’s urgent.”
“Only the commanding officer can separate those two and make those decisions. These two did that.”
Additional photographs from the event can be found here.
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