090413-M-3079S-081By Peter Galuszka

For dramatic five days in April 2009, four Somali pirates held the crew of the Norfolk-based container ship Maersk Alabama before escaping with Captain Rich Phillips in the ship’s international orange-colored lifeboat.

It seemed a selfless and heroic act in the treacherous waters around the impoverished Horn of Africa. Among other supplies, the Alabama was carrying vital food and fresh water supplies to Kenya.

Eventually, the U.S. Navy caught up with the lifeboat as it was being shadowed by the Alabama, including two destroyers and an amphibious assault aircraft carrier. The ordeal ended when one pirate left the lifeboat to “negotiate” and Navy SEAL snipers then shot the three other pirates as they sat in the cramped life boat.

On Friday, “Captain Phillips,” a movie representation starring Tom Hanks, was released to great critical acclaim by Sony Pictures. In its first weekend the movie grossed $26 million, putting it second place after the space flick “Gravity.”

This is all great for Hollywood and also for the Navy, which besides Tom Hanks, are the heroes of the story. They act professionally, efficiently and are deadly. Green light and “pop, pop, pop.” Three headshots. The Somalis make easy villains. They are not motivated by religious hatred or terrorism but simple greed.

Indeed, what’s not to like for the U. S. Navy which also scores well in the recent “Zero Dark Thirty?” The SEALS are certainly barking.

The question is why taxpayers seem to be getting stuck with the bill when hundreds of thousands of civilian workers, including many military contractors in Virginia, are being furloughed because Congress can’t agree on a budget. We also have conservatives raging against needless government spending.

According to The Virginian-Pilot, a Navy admiral met with executive producer Gregory Goodman in Los Angeles when the film was being planned in 2012 and offered red carpet treatment if they went to Norfolk.

Off to Tidewater they went, secretly, in June 2012. True to its word, the Navy laid on the USS Wasp, a small aircraft carrier to stand in for the USS Boxer that participated in the rescue. The Destroyer USS Truxton played the Bainbridge. The frigate USS Halyburton that was in the real rescue, got to play itself.

Besides the ships, which maneuvered off the Virginia coast for the movie, there were real Navy sailors along with the actors, not to mention Seahawk helicopters and even an unmanned drone.

It’s a thrilling and moving movie. I didn’t find out exactly what the film cost the Navy or if it was reimbursed for renting its ships.Bloomberg’s Political Capital says the Navy provided the three ships because they were on training missions anyway plus a SEAL Master Chief for two weeks to make sure depictions were accurate. The Navy says there was no taxpayer money involved, Political Capital reports.

Still, when you munch your popcorn while watching Hanks’ fine acting, remember, you may be paying for more than the price of a ticket.

UPDATE: The Navy got back to me Tuesday after I called them on Monday. Their PIO office was on vacation for Columbus Day. They were not happy with my posting. Lt. Lauryn Demspey said that my last sentence was misleading. The use of the warships cost the U.S. taxpayers nothing, she says. The Navy has offices in Los Angeles and the Pentagon tasked with vetting movie scripts for possible assistance. They liked “Captain Phillips” and made available assistance,. including the warships, which she says, were going to be off the Virginia coast anyway on maneuvers. The Navy did bill Sony Pictures for some extraneous items, such as the use of cranes for loading film and equipment, a man chair and the use of a dumpster. I am grateful for the new information.


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8 responses to “Navy Lays on Small Fleet for Hanks Flick”

  1. You sold me. I’m going to see the movie — government waste or no.

  2. Apparently some of the crew take issue with the portrayal of Phillips in the movie. Hard to tell if they are just mad because they didn’t get a slice of the movie revenue or what.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Actually some of the crew are suing Maersk and Phillips for sailing into pirate waters when they didn’t have to.

    As for Bacon, How craven! Next time he complaints about government spending, he’ll get a beating.

  4. I always found the whole affair a little suspicious.

    you KNOW there ARE pirates in the area because there have ALREADY been 5 previous hijacks..and

    1. you don’t tell the ship to stay out further from the shore

    2. apparently you do not have radar to see approaching boat traffic

    3. you don’t equip them with an armed escort

    4. you do get boarded by pirates and all of a sudden there is a flotilla
    of US Navy ships, helicopters, drones…nearby….waiting in the wings?

    read the wiki account: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maersk_Alabama_hijacking

    and convince yourself that this was something real and not contrived.

    I’m willing to allow that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and when you throw in the military it turns into a gigantic CF.

    but picture yourself as a captain of a boat – taking the same path that 5 prior boats took that were hijacked….why?

  5. Breckinridge Avatar

    Oh good grief. First, I suspect this will be a marvelous recruitment poster for the USN — they love movies about successful operations and a chance to show off their ships. Actual ships and sailors were all over that recent “Battleship” movie (USN vs. Alien Monsters) and the filling took place in the middle of a previous scheduled international exercise.

    Practice is practice and if the ships went out a few days, participated in some close-in precision maneuvers, launched or recovered a few helicopters or Zodiac boats, they got the same amount of live practice time as if they were doing something else. I hope they burn lots of fuel on exercises. Your whining on this one qualifies as NBD (No Big Deal).

    Haven’t seen the film, but I intend to and I had also heard that there were some issues as to whether the ship should have been there at all, even 200 miles offshore. But I also know lots of lawsuits are frivolous. Just because someone sues doesn’t mean the captain or the ship company was at fault. The pirates are the bad guys. But that’s the way of the world — the right winger blames the pirates and the left winger blames the capitalist for taking risk.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    So if a poor young mom cannot get Medicaid it is nbd whining?

    1. Breckinridge Avatar

      WTF does a few thousand gallons of fuel spent by the Navy on a movie, and the wages of sailors already on the payroll who had to do something that day, have to do with Medicaid? Patently false equivalency. If you are looking for waste/fraud/abuse at DOD that is not the place to start. Let’s talk about the F-35……

  7. Neil Haner Avatar
    Neil Haner

    This is easily considered a “recruiting and advertising” expense. And it’s nothing new. The military has a long and cherished tradition of glamorizing itself in popular media to attract young people to join.

    The US military spends over a billion bucks annually on what it calls “recruiting and advertising.” That’s Billion with a “B.” The Navy alone spends over $400 Million. Some of this is paying for those high school visits, some for offices in strip malls (and Times Square!!), some is buying ads during NFL games or decorating NASCAR stock cars, some is going into developing first-person shooter video games glamorizing the army, Air Shows and their like likely factor into it, and some goes into movie tie-ins and such.

    I was a tyke in the early 80’s when Top Gun came out. I got in on VHS and watched it religiously for years. No, I didn’t join the Navy (to this day I’m still not a huge fan of boats, I got sea-sick the one time my dad tried taking me deep-sea fishing), but it did engender in me an awe of fighter jets that I can’t rule out played some role in my joining the Air Force upon graduating high school.

    If you want to start some debate on the military budget as a whole, or on needing to spend 10 figures to recruit when HS and college grads can’t find jobs elsewhere or any other way to pay for college anyways, we can discuss that. But as for participating in this movie, it’s a drop in the bucket of the military’s PR budget, and is no more objectionable than an NFL ad buy or sponsoring your favorite race car driver.

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