Sailor helped in 'surreal' predawn rescue of hijacked ship in 2010
BRADENTON, Fla. — The dangerous rescue mission seemed ripped from the script of the 2013 box-office smash-hit movie "Captain Phillips" starring Tom Hanks — only it happened in real life three years earlier.
Damage Controlman 1st Class A.J. Faucher from Bradenton was on the U.S. Navy crew charged with rescuing the 436-foot-long "Magellan Star" after the German freighter's crew was taken hostage by pirates off the Somalia coast.
"The crew locked themselves in the engine room," he said. "It kind of was like the movie. It was surreal. There was no firefight. It was peaceful. We sent a couple boats filled with Marines over to it, and they pretty much surrendered."
The predawn raid Sept. 9, 2010, sent 24 U.S. Marines climbing aboard the hijacked ship in the Gulf of Aden to arrest nine pirates and free the ship — without firing a shot. It was the first time the American military had boarded a ship commandeered by Somali pirates, who have been hijacking vessel after vessel off Somalia's coast and wreaking havoc on some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, according to a New York Times account. In 2010 alone, pirates hijacked at least 30 ships and gathered tens of millions of dollars in ransoms, the Times reported.
Cindy Ackerman, Faucher's mother, said her son never uttered a word about the successful rescue or his part in it until his Bradenton, Fla., family saw it on the news and online.
"When I talked to him he said the crew had welded themselves into the safe room and they had to cut through the weld and get them out," she said. "He said: 'Mom, I felt sorry for the pirates. They had no shoes. They were just in such bad straits. Clothes just falling off them.'"
Other rescue missions involved more down-to-earth pursuits, Faucher said. He was also on one of a group of naval ships deployed in the Pacific Partnership for Peace project.
"That deployment we did a lot of community relations projects in the Pacific," he said. "We helped fix houses and repaint schools and worked with families. It was a group of naval ships on deployment for that. It was a different experience from transporting Marines back and forth. We're not just a combat-oriented branch."
Faucher is now aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea, which is deployed as part of the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group in support of the U.S. 5th Fleet maritime and theater security efforts.
His job involves maintaining all firefighting systems, dewatering equipment and life-saving gear, as well as chemical, biological and nuclear defense. He's the one who ensures the air is clear of contaminants and radiation. It's not an easy job nor a safe one.
"Primarily, I'm a firefighter on ship and help prepare all systems," he said. "We do chemical, biological and radiological testing to make sure atmosphere is clear so we're not exposed to too much radiation. It is dangerous."
There was a time it didn't look as though he would make it out of high school let alone play an important role in the U.S. military.
The 2006 Manatee High School graduate, who has now spent more than seven years in the U.S. Navy with three deployments, said he almost didn't graduate high school with a 2.1 grade-point average.
"I wasn't one of those kids who was at school very much," Faucher said during an interview 11 a.m. EST Wednesday, which correlated to 7 a.m. where his ship was deployed. "I didn't like school that much."
He said he did enjoy his job at Crowder Brothers Ace Hardware while in high school but knew he needed direction after graduation. So he started checking out military options, including the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy.
"I didn't really plan it out of high school," Faucher said. "I just didn't think I was ready for college at the time, and I needed something constructive to do.
"My mom absolutely would not let me join the Marine Corps. I have no clue why."
Ackerman said she was firm with the recruiter who called from the Marines.
"I said: 'Well I'm sorry sir, he's not going to join the Marines,'" Ackerman recalled with a laugh. "You're always the first ones in and always in the heavy fighting and it's not OK with me."
Ackerman, a teacher, said the Navy taught her son he is an intelligent man capable of learning anything he sets his mind to understanding.
"He struggled in high school and it's probably because he's a hands-on type of guy," she said. "One of the things the Navy has done for him in every course he's taken and everything he's done is he has learned he has quite a wonderful brain. That's the one thing I most appreciate."
The Navy also provided Faucher with a mobile home, career direction and job satisfaction, he said. His tour of duty is nowhere near concluded, he said.
"I'd like to be in the Navy for my 20 and make a career out of it," he said. "Once I get out I'll do fire investigation or something along those lines."
His last request before hanging up: "Tell all my family I love them."