Gay former sailors back captain ousted over videos

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NavyCapt. Owen P. Honors, removed from command of one of the Navy’s most powerful warships and under investigation for ribald videos made to amuse his crew, is getting moral support from an unexpected quarter — gay sailors who served under his command.

The captain is under fire for videos he made four years ago while executive officer of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, and broadcast to the 6,000 crew members in an effort to entertain them during two wartime deployments. The videos contain scatological humor, foul language, sexual innuendo and the use of the word “fag.”

Capt. Honors was relieved of command last week, and there were calls over the weekend for him to face a court-martial.

Interviews with sailors on the Enterprise at the time, including several who have since left the Navy and say they were openly gay when they served, suggest that the videos, far from offending, did, as intended, raise morale through their crude humor. Many of Capt. Honors‘ former shipmates think the Navy has already gone too far in stripping him of his command.

“I was not offended,” said Nowie Solis, who was a mass-communications specialist, third class, in the ship’s media department. Mr. Solis, who says he was gay and that his sexuality was known to his shipmates, has since been honorably discharged. “I had plenty of gay friends on board and never heard of anyone who was offended,” he told The Washington Times, “He wasn’t insulting” gay sailors, added Mr. Solis, “They were just harmless jokes.”

Capt. Honors “absolutely did not” create a hostile or homophobic atmosphere on board, added Eric M. Prenger, a gay sailor who also served on the Enterprise at the time. Mr. Prenger, an electronics technician, third class, said the crew looked forward to the videos, which were broadcast on the ship’s closed circuit TV system every Saturday night, preceding the showing of a movie.

“They were definitely a tension reliever,” said Mr. Prenger, who has also since left the service. “I remember laughing at them.”

Gay men and women that join the military do so “knowing they aren’t going to be in an environment that appeals to their sense of delicacy,” said Mr. Prenger. “Gay or straight, you need a tough skin to get through.”

There is a long historical tradition of sexualized humor in the Navy, noted Christopher Pumphrey, a petty officer, second class, who was honorably discharged in 2007. Mr. Pumphrey, a mass communications specialist on the Enterprise at the time, worked in the office where the videos were produced and helped shoot one of them.

Long wartime deployments in the cramped quarters of a naval vessel are “extremely stressful,” he said, “You get cabin fever and the way to relieve that is humor, often of a kind that would not be understood or even seem offensive to people who have never been in that situation. … Something about being at sea for such a long time makes a very silly part of you wake up.”

Mr. Pumphrey noted that the majority of the crew were under 25 and that the juvenile humor in the videos was a way to get the crew’s attention. The videos contained “command messages,” dealing with issues such as the need to conserve water.

Several sailors pointed out that one of the videos posted was a “greatest hits” compilation, and gave a distorted impression of the overall tone of the videos.

But Greg Jacob, policy director of the Service Women’s Action Network, said the fact that so many sailors are “trying to normalize this behavior speaks volumes about the attitude to sexual harassment and sexual assault” in the service. He highlighted the comments Capt. Honors made in one video dismissing complaints about “inappropriate material.”

“One of the main reasons that the victims of sexual assault and harassment don’t come forward [in the military] is that they don’t believe their complaints will be heard,” Mr. Jacob said.

Peter Clarke, a former Navy lieutenant and close friend of Capt. Honors, has joined several former Enterprise crew members in trying to organize support for the captain.

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