The captain of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise has been removed from his command because of videos he made several years ago containing foul language, sexual innuendo and anti-gay slurs.
A statement from U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., said Tuesday that Capt. Owen P. Honors, 49, had been permanently relieved of his command of the Enterprise and assigned to administrative duties “for demonstrating poor judgment.”
The statement said the Navy would continue its investigation into what it called the “inappropriate videos” that Capt. Honors made while serving as the ship’s executive officer, or second in command, in 2006 and 2007. It said the investigation will “include the actions of other senior officers who knew of the videos and the actions they took in response.”
Capt. Honors’ “profound lack of good judgment and professionalism … calls into question his character and completely undermines his credibility to continue to serve effectively in command,” U.S. Fleet Command chief Adm. John C. Harvey Jr. said in the statement.
“The foundation of our success in the Navy lies in our ability to gain and hold the trust of our sailors, including through personal example. … After personally reviewing the videos … I have lost confidence in Capt. Honors’ ability to lead effectively, and he is being held accountable for poor judgment and the inappropriate actions demonstrated.”
Some former colleagues have defended Capt. Honors, saying the videos were intended to be humorous and praising his qualities as an officer.
The U.S. Fleet Forces Command statement said Capt. Dee Mewbourne will take over as commanding officer of the Enterprise, which is slated to deploy this month.
The videos, broadcast to the Enterprise’s nearly 6,000 crew members every week or two on the ship’s internal television system, including while they were deployed to the Persian Gulf as part of U.S. combat forces in Iraq, were dubbed “XO Movie Night.”
Three of them were obtained and posted last week by the Virginian Pilot newspaper. They feature scatological and slapstick humor, as well as scenes of sailors simulating masturbation and proctological examination; montages of Capt. Honors and other officers using what he calls “the F-bomb”; and a scene in which an officer is surprised in his stateroom apparently having sex with a donkey.
At several points in the videos, Capt. Honors, a naval fighter pilot, uses an anti-gay slur in referring to surface warfare officers, or non-aviation personnel, in what seems intended as a reference to intraservice rivalry between aviators and non-aviators in the Navy.
All three of the videos posted, which the Virginian-Pilot says were made with Navy public affairs personnel and equipment, begin with a disclaimer: “As usual, the admiral and the captain have no idea about the contents of the video or the movie this evening, and they should not be held accountable in any judicial setting,” says Capt. Honors.
He also refers derisively to the fact that some on the ship apparently were offended by the videos. “Over the years, I’ve had several complaints about the inappropriate content of these videos, never to me personally, but gutlessly through other channels,” he says.
Many serving and former crew members of the Enterprise have joined a Facebook page defending Capt. Honors, and one told CBS News that the videos were intended to amuse the crew and raise morale.
“They were meant for our entertainment. You know, lighthearted laughter,” said former Petty Officer Phillip Ciesla. “None of it was ever meant, you know, to be taken seriously.”
Others suggested that the real responsibility lay with those senior to Capt. Honors. “What’s being missed is that this conduct was clearly the product of an environment in the service,” Tommy Sears, executive director of the Center for Military Readiness, told The Washington Times.
The center is an educational nonprofit advocate for “sound military personnel policies” and campaigned against the repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces. Mr. Sears added that the person responsible for the overall personnel environment in the service when the videos were made was Adm. Mike Mullen, who was chief of naval operations and is now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mr. Sears added that the recent decision to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which banned openly gay service members, would only make things worse. “How are we supposed to have confidence that standards [of discipline and behavior] can be maintained” after the repeal? he asked.