Thoughts of home: Retired Navy SEAL draws on Butte roots during tough missions

2013-12-22T00:00:00Z 2013-12-22T06:11:02Z Thoughts of home: Retired Navy SEAL draws on Butte roots during tough missions Montana Standard

O’Neill’s missions include Capt. Phillips’ rescue from Somali pirates

When Rob O’Neill says he can’t tell you something because it’s classified information, you know he’s telling the truth.

And, at least he’s polite about it. O’Neill, a former member of SEAL Team Six, could just as easily say, “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you.”

Butte native O’Neill’s missions inspire movies.

He served as the lead jumper on the mission to rescue Capt. Richard Phillips, whose ship was taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009 in the Indian Ocean. The Tom Hanks’ movie “Captain Phillips” is based on that incident.

O’Neill helped save Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, the only survivor in a failed mission to capture a Taliban leader. “Lone Survivor,” a film starring Mark Wahlberg based on those events, comes out in January.

When O’Neill was in these intense scenarios he would often think of his hometown, where his family still lives.

“I would say, ‘How did I get here from Butte, Montana?’” he said during an interview Friday with The Montana Standard.

This question he posed to himself inspired some of the topics he’ll tackle during an appearance to benefit Butte schools. O’Neill joined the Navy at the recruiting center on Harrison Avenue in 1995, a year after graduating from Butte Central High.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, you can do anything,” O’Neill said. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do the best you can do.”

He’s featured speaker at

7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 29, in the Maroon Activities Center.

The ongoing theme to most of his speaking engagements is to never quit.

“That’s from Butte — that miner-type toughness,” he said.

For his outstanding service during more than 400 combat missions, O’Neill has received two Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars with Valor and dozens of other commendation. Since leaving the military last year, he began motivational speaking engagements. He has spoken at the United Nations, for bankers in Manhattan and to college football teams. O’Neill lives in Washington, D.C.

Although O’Neill can’t discuss particulars of his missions, he will talk about his experiences through lessons learned and emotions he felt. He said he gets asked six questions on a regular basis.

“If you show up, you’ll probably hear about it,” O’Neill said, adding that he’ll follow his speech with a question-and-answer session.

He arrived in his hometown just in time to spend the holidays with his family, something he missed for many years when he was stationed overseas in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

His first stop when he got here was to grab a pork chop sandwich.

“I love coming home. I look forward to it every time. It’s a blast coming back,” he said. “People in Butte are so nice, they don’t even know it.”

Contact Brandt at 406-496-5519 or

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(10) Comments

  1. DANelson
    Report Abuse
    DANelson - November 21, 2014 3:38 am
    This self-serving motivational speaker broke the Seal's Code of ethics, in my opinion. He also put all of us who live in Butte, at risk for a terrorist attack. Perhaps he doesn't care what happens to people of Butte. He doesn't have to live here.
  2. buttetonian
    Report Abuse
    buttetonian - November 09, 2014 12:00 pm
    Agree! And where have you been? I thought you signed off shortly after constipationist.

    It was shoot to kill and we didn't want his incarceration to rally his admirers.
  3. oldie
    Report Abuse
    oldie - November 07, 2014 9:23 pm
    As long as he is answering questions, I have a question for Rob.

    Why didn't you take him alive?

    Bin Laden wasn't holding a gun. I read where you said Bin Laden had both hands on his wife's shoulders. So you could see his hands were empty. Yet you shot him anyway. You could have taken him alive, but now that he is dead, all his secrets die with him.

    I figured that's what would happen if we ever caught up to him. I suspected that just what happened to Lee Harvey Oswald would happen to Bin Laden too. His family were friends of the Bush family after all. And Jeb still has yet to run, too, doesn't he. So maybe it was best for some people to keep Bin Laden as quiet as the grave. And that is what happened. Some people got their way. Again.

    So Rob, did you have orders to take Bin Laden alive? Or were you ordered to execute him on sight? If you didn't have a kill-on-sight order, why did you do it then?
  4. 510
    Report Abuse
    510 - November 06, 2014 11:36 am
    "I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions."
    -SEAL Ethos

  5. Restore_the_Republic
    Report Abuse
    Restore_the_Republic - December 31, 2013 10:39 am
    S T U D
  6. snoopindaweb
    Report Abuse
    snoopindaweb - December 26, 2013 5:43 am
    Congradulations for an outstanding career, Glad You made it thru as well as can be expected, I'm sure You've been amazed by that a bunch of times!. Have a Happy and Healthy New Year.
  7. Butte_Griz_Fan
    Report Abuse
    Butte_Griz_Fan - December 24, 2013 1:42 pm
    The epitome of "butte tough"! Thank you for all you have done for this country! Happy Holidays.
  8. kaha
    Report Abuse
    kaha - December 23, 2013 9:50 pm
    29th? Awesome, I want to hear him speak. Seems like a great and motivational guy.
  9. Nkeene
    Report Abuse
    Nkeene - December 23, 2013 6:09 pm
    Thank you for your outstanding service, its an honor too know that men such as yourself also served alongside my brothers an I. Butte breeds absolute warriors. Thank you again.
    Cpl. Nick Keene
    U.S. Army (RET)
  10. wld_child_64
    Report Abuse
    wld_child_64 - December 23, 2013 12:13 pm
    Thank you for your service Sir.

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