Captain Richard Phillips: A paragon of mental toughness

Captain Richard Phillips, a former merchant mariner from Vermont, is an undeniable American hero. Photo: Dave Allocca/ASSOCIATED PRESS

SAN DIEGO, October 15, 2013 — Captain Richard Phillips, a former merchant mariner from Vermont, is an undeniable American hero.

Abducted from his Kenya-bound American ship the Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates, Phillips was forced to leave his crew and abandon his ship.


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The Maersk Alabama’s mission was to supply large quantities of food to starving Africans.

Phillips was held hostage by the Somali pirates in a small, enclosed lifeboat, formerly attached to the ship.

From April 8, 2009 until his dramatic rescue by the United States Navy on April 12, 2009, Phillips was held at gunpoint while being subjected to mental and physical abuse. His life was continuously threatened, and he was also deprived of air, water, food, and other basic necessities.

Phillips was perceived by his captors as a pawn to be used for bargaining with the United States Navy, as they sought ransom and safe passage to Somalia.

However, the pirates severely underestimated Phillips’ strong-mindedness and temerity, and his ability to interpret the emotionally-charged and unstable environment.

According to a story by Susan Green, published in USA Today, “Real-life Captain Phillips recalls high seas drama,” Captain Phillips said, “I thought the first thing the pirates would do is take me out if they thought an attack was imminent.” “I really didn’t see a good outcome.”

Phillips further recalled that while he was on the lifeboat he, “Silently prayed and said a few things to my wife, apologizing for the 3 am phone call I imagined she would get to inform her that I was dead.”

Following his rescue, Phillips published and co-authored his 2011 book, “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals and Dangerous Days at Sea.”

Rasmussen/AP

The 2013 newly-released blockbuster move, “Captain Phillips,” starring actor Tom Hanks, who gives an impressive and possibly even Oscar-worthy performance as Phillips, is based on Phillip’s 2011 memoirs.

It is difficult to fathom how a seemingly easy-going merchant mariner from Vermont, husband, and father of two children could demonstrate the extremely high level of fortitude Phillips displayed during the2009 incident.

According to writer Ben Sherwood, in his article, “Hold Fast: The 5 Survival Lessons of Capt. Richard Phillips,” published in Huff Post, the secrets of Phillip’s mental strength may possibly be explained by the following:

1. Hold Fast. Under incredible pressure, Capt. Phillips held fast and never let go.

2. The Fighting Spirit. Capt. Phillips is more than a flinty New Englander from Vermont. He reportedly jumped into the ocean and tried to swim to safety at the nearby USS Bainbridge.

3. Realistic Optimism. A positive mental attitude is an incredibly important part of survival, but a naive or foolhardy attitude can be dangerous.

4. The Power of Purpose. From the very start, he (Phillips) was ready to sacrifice himself for his crew and his ship. Many of the world’s most amazing survivors possess a sense of purpose or a calling greater than themselves.

5. The Power of Faith. Faith may be religion-based, or the belief in something greater than oneself. Indeed, Phillips’ first comments reflect what he might have felt when he was captured then later rescued: “The real heroes are the Navy the Seals, those who have brought me home.”

In spite of his undeniable ability to survive the seemingly impossible with steadiness and grace, Phillips soon discovered that reentering his prior life was a daunting task.

According to writer Susan Green, in the article “Real-Life ‘Captain Phillips’ recalls high-seas drama,” published in USA Today, Phillips stated that “I’d wake up at 5 am every day crying like a little baby.” “I’d slap myself and try to remember how lucky I was to be alive.”

On April 22, 2009, the United States Senate passed a “Resolution Praising Captain Richard Phillips of Vermont.”

Senator Russ Feingold, one of the Resolution’s authors, said, “I am honored to help recognize the incredible work of our Armed Forces and other U.S. government agencies in rescuing Captain Phillips, whose bravery throughout the ordeal was an inspiration.”

Captain Richard Phillips’ amazing real life story continues to inspire.

His courageous example of mental toughness, and ultimately his ability to survive the seemingly impossible, demonstrates the ability inherent within each of us to reach beyond our perceived limitations and fulfill our boundless potential.

Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!

Laurie Edwards-Tate, MS, is a health care provider of over 30 years. As a featured “Communities” columnist since 2011, LifeCycles with Laurie Edwards-Tate emphasizes healthy aging and maintaining independence, while delighting and informing its readers. Laurie is a recognized expert in home and community-based, long-term care services, and is also an educator.

In addition to writing for “Communities,” Laurie is the President and CEO of her firm, At Your Home Familycare, which serves persons of all ages who are disabled and infirm with a variety of non-medical, in-home care and concierge services.

Copyright © 2013 by At Your Home Familycare


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Laurie Edwards-Tate

Laurie Edwards-Tate, MS, President and Founder of At Your Home Familycare in San Diego, California, was among the first to recognize the growing need for services allowing individuals to remain independent created by the aging of America including the Baby Boomer generation, now being called the “Silver Tsunami.” It is the Baby Boomers who are rapidly redefining what aging and growing older means and looks like in America today.

Now celebrating its 28th year in business, AYHF is among San Diego County’s Top  Women-Owned Businesses and Fastest Growing Businesses, and enjoys a reputation for upholding the highest possible standards among its employees and its emphasis on customer service.  Edwards-Tate is a valued contributor to the public dialogue on current issues and challenges in the home care industry, and serves in leadership roles on the Home Care Aide Association of America Advisory Board and Private Duty Home Care Association Advisory Board, as well as the Home Care Aide Steering Committee of the California Association for Health Services at Home.

Edwards-Tate is frequently interviewed in the media on healthy aging, caregiving, and health care topics. 

 Follow Laurie and AYHF  at www.atyourhomefamilycare.com; on Facebook at www.facebook.com/atyourhomefamilycare, and Twitter at @AYHFamilycare

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