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Navy ship videos prompt investigation

A series of short movies produced on a Navy aircraft carrier have come to light, full of explicit and controversial material.

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Jack Jacobs
Retired Colonel, U.S. Army and NBC News Military Analyst
Sunday, January 3, 2010; 2:30 PM

The Navy said Sunday it will investigate "clearly inappropriate" videos broadcast to the crew of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in which a top officer of the ship used gay slurs, mimicked masturbation and opened the shower curtain on women pretending to bathe together.

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Ret. Col. Jack Jacobs was online Monday, Jan. 3, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss the incident and the investigation.


Jack Jacobs: Hi. Col. Jack Jacobs here. ready to take any questions on the Enterprise video.


Fairfax, Va.: Will the fact that the video is four years old have any bearing on what may be the fate of Capt. Honors?

Jack Jacobs: I don't think the age of the video will be of any consequence. The real issue for the Navy is that the XO made the video, and evidently his skipper knew about it, too.


Washington, D.C.: I'm baffled by the congratulatory comments as if the Navy DIDN'T know about these videos before now. Please. My understanding is that the videos were leaked specifically because nothing was done by leadership when complaints were originally made. The leadership's protestations ring hollow to me. Am I missing something?

Jack Jacobs: I don't think that the highest echelons of the Navy knew anything about this. It sounds to me as if only the Enterprise's skipper and crew knew of the videos. This means that the skipper may be in hot water over this.


Palo Alto, Calif.: Col. Jacobs, thank you it is indeed a pleasure to have you answering for us today.

Colonel, doesn't the U.S. Navy have a long tradition of bawdy skits that goes back to the early days of sail? I have seen stronger stuff on Saturday Night Live videos. Might there be some political aspect to this sudden investigation that we are not hearing about? It seems a shame to attack a distinguished Navy captain's career over these four-year-old tapes. Your thoughts?

Jack Jacobs: The chain-of-command is weakened when a 45-year-old Captain acts like a 19-year-old. Many of the crew liked the videos, but, then, more than 50% of the ship's complement are teenagers. The purpose of having young people led by adults is that the young people should emulate the officers, not for the officers to regress.


Portsmouth, Va.: Has the Navy released an information regarding command climate surveys done either while Capt. Honors was XO or captain?

Jack Jacobs: Not to my knowledge, but you can bet that will be part of the investigation, and we will hear the results, and the data, in due course.


Washington, D.C.: What has been the Navy's response to the release of the videos? Who will be doing the investigation?

Jack Jacobs: The investigation will probably be ordered by an admiral in the chain-of-command, most likely the three-star fleet commander, and the investigating officer will be a rear admiral in that chain. In the alternative, the Chief of Naval Operations may commission a separate, higher-level investigation, to see if this kind of behavior is common elsewhere.


Washington, D.C.: Do we know why the person that submitted these videos to the Inspector General last week also felt it necessary to release them to the media at the same time?

Do we know what, if any, action(s) the ship's CO or strike group commander took to stop these videos in 2007?

Jack Jacobs: Very good question. While I think that the behavior was reprehensible, I don't think very much of telling the chain-of-command last. That person has a lot to answer for, too.


Austin, Tex.: I'm sure many people will focus on sexism and homophobia, but what bothers me most is that somebody with such poor judgment is commanding an aircraft carrier. I can see young sailors making raunchy videos. I can even see officers looking the other way. But having an officer of that rank participating actively makes me think something systemic is wrong.

Is this kind of thing normal in the Navy, at that rank?

Jack Jacobs: Well, perhaps it's not the system as much as Honors's own commanding officer, who evidently knew of the videos but did nothing about them.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Is the making of ship-board videos by high-ranking officers a standard Navy procedure, but this one on the Enterprise was simply beyond the pale? Or are ship-board entertainment videos not common Navy practice?

Jack Jacobs: I am led to understand that videos are commonplace, but yes, the XO's behavior on them was not what one expects from the Navy's leadership.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Col. Jacobs, thanks for taking questions today and for your service. As a gay American who never thought I'd see the day that Don't Ask, Don't Tell would be repealed, I find this news disheartening but not surprising. On the one hand we have Pentagon studies showing that the military, for the most part, seems ready for this change, and on the other hand we have sophomoric (at best) behavior such as this, with once again gays and lesbians subject to ridicule and abuse. In your view, what does this say about how gay people wanting to serve their country and serve openly will be accepted? Is this just an isolated incident, or did all the years of study, etc., not get it right after all?

Jack Jacobs: One hopes that this is isolated behavior. As I've said on the air: when the bullets and shrapnel start flying around, nobody cares about race, religion, sexual orientation...anything. We fight for the country, to be sure, but mostly we fight for each other.


Arlington, Va. : Besides the content, the thing I'm shocked about here is the TIME he seemed to have to make these videos.

What (in broad, unclassified terms), does an XO on an aircraft carrier do all day? What duties should he have been doing instead of this?

Jack Jacobs: Yes, it DOES seem as if there was plenty of time devoted to making the videos. Of course, it is likely that Honors had some assistance doing it. But I've been an army commander and an executive officer, and I can report that an XO, if he's working properly, doesn't have much time on his hands for foolishness like that.


Washington, D.C.: What? A navy top gun behaving badly? No way! Next you'll tell me sailors get drunk in port and misbehave!

Certainly we shouldn't excuse misbehavior as boys will be boys or that it's just the culture of the Navy, but come on, this is hardly surprising. You would think however, in the post-Tail-Hook days, someone in his position would use a little more common sense. Do you have any insight into the culture of the Navy? I would imagine that like many government organizations and the military in particular individuals at all levels find they must walk a tight rope between adhering to codified PC policies and a culture which unofficially encourages certain PI attitudes and behaviors.

I do find it odd that these videos made years ago and supposedly already dealt with by the Navy are just now surfacing and facing some level of scrutiny. It sounds like someone may have an ax to grind and is out to get this particular captain.

Jack Jacobs: I agree that it looks like somebody has an axe to grind. But I also agree that that kind of behavior weakens the chain-of-command.


Washington, D.C.: Should he retire?

Jack Jacobs: I will be surprised if he does not retire, and he certainly won't command the Enterprise.


Anonymous: Why would the Commanding Officer of the ship, as well as the embarked Flag Officer at the time, not take action on something like this?

Jack Jacobs: That's an interesting, important---and tough---question. Perhaps Honors's skipper was a friend and didn't want the foolishness to ruin Honors's career. Perhaps the skipper thought that the mere existence of the videos would indicate to his superiors that he, the skipper, didn't have complete control of his ship.


Temple Hills, Md.: This seems like a media PC-driven story. Were there any complaints filed about this incident when it occurred by servicemen/women?

Also do efforts to apply political correctness on the military harm its effectiveness?

Jack Jacobs: Don't know if there were any complaints filed or forwarded to task force level or any level outside the Enterprise itself. In any case, the time line of the incidents will become clear when the investigation is complete and made public.


Annapolis, Md.: I find it interesting that this story surfaced just weeks before USS Enterprise deployed. Obviously, someone decided to try to ruin Captain Honor's career. Can you share what you think the motivations might be and who it might be? Also, I read that one copy of each video remained on the carrier's hard drive. Can you imagine what the ship's commander was thinking when they didn't destroy all tapes? Finally, I read a lot about the antagonism between the SWO's and the Fighter Pilots (nothing new here) - could you comment how that played into this situation?

Jack Jacobs: Well, there is always a lively exchange between SWOs and aviators, and not all of it is merely in good fun. But by and large, both surface sailors and aviators must, and do, live an work together in harmony. The comments in the video, I am led to believe, were pointed but just in fun.

As to the timing, I do find that interesting. Too much of coincidence to be a coincidence, isn't it?

And clearly: whoever released the videos did not have much liking for Capt Honors.


Seattle, Wash.: I have not heard of any immediate disciplinary actions. Do you think Capt. Honors will have to relinquish command of the Enterprise while the investigation is conducted and how soon could that happen?

Jack Jacobs: It's been announced that he will not take command, pending the investigation. But in any case, it will be astonishing if he DOES take command of the Enterprise...or indeed any other ship, at least until the investigation is complete and he's exonerated. If he is found to be at fault of any kind, my guess is that he will retire.


Fairfax, Va.: I understand that the enterprise will be heading over to the war zone soon. Will Honors still be in command?

Jack Jacobs: Most observers believe that the ship will sail, but Capt Honors will not be aboard.


Baltimore, Md. : Colonel Jacobs: As an Army officer, you may be reluctant to criticize another branch of the service, but I have to ask if you think this kind of behavior is part of Navy culture -- specifically Navy aviator culture. Tailhook, which sullied the Navy's image some years back, was a regular Naval aviator get together and now we have these movies, produced by a Captain who is a former Top Gun pilot.

Jack Jacobs: Alas, the Theory of Large Numbers says that in any large population, there will be outliers. The large majority of people in the Services are magnificent, and then there are exceptions that prove the rule. And that is true of all Services.


Chantilly, Va.: What is an XO and what are the duties?

Jack Jacobs: A ship's XO is perhaps the busiest person on the vessel. He is the highest-ranking officer with direct contact with the majority of the ship's complement. He is responsible for all the administration, operations and logistics of a floating city of more than 5,000 people. And in addition, he's responsible for everything else that the skipper directs. It is no surprise, then, that few people ever become a skipper until after service as an XO, often of more than one vessel.


Austin, Tex.: According to the comments on the video, some people did in fact complain (albeit anonymously) about a "previous version" of the videos.

So even if correct channels weren't followed, Capt. Honor did know that the videos were offensive to some people.

Jack Jacobs: He almost surely knew they were offensive because he spoke about the offensiveness in the video. And in any case, anybody would know they demonstrated poor judgment.


Jack Jacobs: Must run. Thanks for staying with my. Must learn to type properly...

all best

Col J


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