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Thoughts of home

Butte native Rob O’Neill was a member of the Navy Seal team six that rescued Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates in 2009. O’Neill’s role in the mission is featured in the movie “Captain Phillips.’’ He retired from the Navy last summer and is now a motivational speaker.

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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