Copyright 2013 by John T. Reed

My wife and I saw the new Captain Phillips movie yesterday. That is the one about the Maersk Alabama container ship that was hijacked by pirates, three of whom were simultaneously shot dead by SEALs.

This is a great story. And Hollywood tells it pretty straight.

I am especially thankful that they did not hype the SEALs. In the movie, they come, they shoot, they leave.

Parachuting into the ocean at night

They do show them doing HALO parachute jumps into the ocean at night near the U.S. Navy ship. In my prior article on the actual incident, I said the SEALS HALO jumping into the ocean at night was bullshit. It’s dangerous and unnecessary. They might have landed near the lifeboat.

The obvious correct approach would have been to fly them by helicopter or fixed wing aircraft to the carrier that was part of the three-ship group dealing with the pirates.

You are paying for jump training and jump pay to tens of thousands of paratroopers in the U.S. military even though parachute jumps, other than occasional special small unit jumps, were an ill-advised fad that began and ended during World War II. Five combat jumps were made in that war by the US and its allies. The Nazis tried it once or twice. Basically, it doesn’t work. Furthermore, paratroopers can be trained in a week if we ever want to use them again. I was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division.

I also spent a month internship in the 101st Airborne Division when I was a not-yet-airborne-qualified West Point cadet. If some airborne guy with a body temperature IQ has a problem with me being in the 101st when I was not yet graduated from jump school, take it up with the Army. They ordered me and dozens of my other classmates to report to the 101st in July 1966 so we did. See my general web article about airborne.

Sniper commander rambling

They seemed to depict the snipers listening to all sorts of chatter on a single radio circuit leading up to the command to shoot. I doubt that. I expect the snipers were listening to a single SEAL commander who was looking a three side-by-side TV screen showing what each of the three snipers were seeing in their scopes. When all three pirates suddenly became simultaneously visible, I expect the SEAL commander said “Fire” or “send it”—the latter being the standard sniper assistant command. But since they had to fire simultaneously, I would have thought a one-syllable command would be required.

In the movie, the SEAL commander repeatedly said how many “green” (pirate visible) screens he had and was whining, “I need three, not two.” More likely, the SEAL commander said something like, “Ready,” “Ready,” “Ready”…“Fire!” If the commander had been rambling and thinking out loud and whining to no one who could give him what he was requesting, I expect one of the snipers would have said, “Hey, cap. Shut the fuck up until you say ‘fire’.”

During my plebe year, I was one of 2,500 cadets who marched into the Army-Syracuse football game in Yankee Stadium in 1964. We had a little parade formation routine we had rehearsed—same one we did at the Army-Navy Game each year. When we finished the routine, our company commander, who was facing us, said “About.” I immediately thought, “We did not rehearse this, but mine is not to reason why.” They he said, “face.” “About face” means to turn clockwise so that you end up facing the opposite direction. I and a number of my freshman classmates followed his order. The upperclassmen knew he was talking to himself. Why would he need to talk out loud to give a command to no one but himself? He didn’t. Same as the SEAL in Captain Phillips rambling to himself and whining about what he “needed.” And those SEALS were about to kill someone, not just look foolish on TV.

In the event in Yankee Stadium, many of the upperclassmen started cursing at our executing the about face. We immediately saw most in the company had not done it and turned back around. It must have looked like shit on TV and in the Stadium. I am guessing that the company commander got his ass chewed big time. Not one word was said to us who followed his order. As a result of that incident and other occasions as cadets, we learned that some upperclass cadets, for unknown reasons, would give commands directed solely at themselves, out loud. Stupid.

As a football coach and author of football coaching books I also make a similar point repeatedly to my players and readers. For example, when we are on defense, only the defensive captain is allowed to call out the strength of the offense—EVEN IF HE IS WRONG! We cannot have either the offensive field captain (quarterback) or the defensive field captain (usually the middle linebacker) saying extraneous things. They are giving important commands and they must do so with verbal economy, distinctness, and clarity and the command of execution, e.g., “Fire” or “Face” or “Hut” must be spoken like a gun shot—starter’s pistol actually.

So I doubt the real SEAL commander was so unprofessionally rambling and whining as he was depicted in the movie.


One of my pet peeves about Hollywood depictions of combat is the lack of clearing jams, reloading, or running out of ammo. And that seemed to be one of the ways Hollywood screwed up Captain Phillips. The four pirates drove a speedboat up to the side of the Maersk then one by one jumped on a ladder they hung over the rail of the Maersk, abandoning their skiff which appeared to have supplies like water, food, fuel, and ammo. They had no back packs or cartridge belts or web gear or bandoleers of ammo pouches. All they had was an AK-47 with a magazine slung over their head and shoulder. They were wearing pants, sandals in the case of three of them, and minimal shirts with no pockets that I recall. The head pirate also had a semiautomatic pistol tucked into his pants.

Yet when they were in the skiff approaching the ship, on the ship, and in the lifeboat at the end, they were spraying bullets as if they were connected to bullet hydrants—typical Hollywood gunfight nonsense.

It looked like the only ammo they had was what was in one magazine—probably about 18 rounds in each of the AKs and about 10 in the pistol. Plus they were blasting at the ship as it took evasive action and fired at the pirates with distress flares and fire hoses. It was chaos and all the pirates seemed to be interested in was getting that ladder on the boat then jumping onto the ladder. They were frantically busy with that and probably would have had little or no ammo left after all the pre-boarding firing. Yet when they got on board the ship, they kept firing at times, had one AK captured by the crew, and never showed any concern about ammo.

I never saw one reload. After being admonished by Phillips, one took his magazine out while using the butt to smash out a lifeboat window. He did not take the round out of the chamber which was the only round in danger of going off because of using the gun as a battering ram. Anyway, no one ever reloaded or exhibited any other ammo than the original magazines in the guns when they boarded. I did not count the number of shots fired by the pirates in the movie, but I expect the count would exceed the max you could fit into four magazines.


In my prior articles, I said Obama took credit for this, but he also had 17 meetings or phone calls about what to do before they did it. One phone call was too many. The military should have been told to deal with it pursuant to their very expensive and lengthy training. 17 is absurd dithering.

Obama’s name was never mentioned in the movie. The closest was some disembodied female voice informing the Navy ship the White House had approved use of force. Gee, thanks, we thought we were just nautical hall monitors before you told us there is reason we have all these weapons.

I recommend the movie highly. Great story and Hollywood did hardly any distortions.

By the way, when the movie came out, I saw an article updating some issues about the actual incident. The $30,000 that was in the Maersk safe and given to the pirates who took it onto the lifeboat disappeared. Apparently, some Navy person stole it.

The other thing is the story reported by the Navy was that each pirate was killed by a single sniper shot. Those who recovered the bodies said one had been shot 19 times. I don’t remember what they said about the number of shots in the other pirates.

I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.

John T. Reed