The captain of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise was permanently relieved of his command Tuesday for making a series of ribald and offensive videos that aired on the ship’s closed-circuit television system when he was the second-in-command several years ago.
The Navy cited a “profound lack of good judgment and professionalism” in relieving Capt. Owen Honors, who stars in the videos. The recordings, reportedly shown as a way of relieving boredom and boosting morale, include skits laden with sexual innuendo and barbs aimed at gays and the politically correct.
In a statement announcing the action against Honors, Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, said the incident “calls into question his character and completely undermines his credibility to serve effectively in command.” Harvey is leading an investigation into the videos, including whether other senior officers knew of their existence and why they apparently took no action to stop them.
It is not clear why the videos are surfacing only now, or whether high-ranking Navy officials were aware of the videos earlier and decided to promote Honors to the USS Enterprise’s top job despite their content. But once the Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported on the videos Saturday and published an edited version on the Internet, the Navy moved quickly to condemn the videos and launch an investigation.
“The Navy does not endorse or condone these kinds of actions,” Cmdr. Chris Sims, a Navy spokesman, said before the action against Honors was announced. “Those in command . . . are charged to lead by example and are held accountable for setting the proper tone and upholding the standards of honor, courage and commitment that we expect sailors to exemplify.”
The Navy has traditionally moved faster than other U.S. military services to relieve officers of command when they are believed to have acted improperly. A spate of commanders have been disciplined in this way in the past year, for offenses ranging from sexual misconduct to running ships aground.
On Monday, as Web sites and television talk shows repeatedly played the video excerpts and discussed the controversy, a prominent gay rights group praised the Navy’s response.
“What we see here is, unfortunately, a 49-year-old Navy captain acting like a 19-year-old fraternity boy,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which has advocated for gay military members. “There is no place for that type of frat-house behavior.”
Honors took command of the Enterprise, which is expected to deploy soon, in May. The officer who captained the ship in 2006 and 2007 has been promoted to rear admiral.
The videos surfaced less than two weeks after President Obama signed legislation repealing the military’s longstanding ban on openly gay service members.
Sarvis, whose group pushed hard for the repeal, said he thought it was unlikely that the videos, which include several anti-gay slurs, will have any effect on the Pentagon’s efforts to allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly.
“Most of your service members are professionals,” Sarvis said. “I don’t see any implications to transitioning to openly gay service for gays and lesbians.”
The Pentagon hasn’t said how long it will take to clear the way for gays to serve openly in the military.
In its report on the videos, the Virginian-Pilot newspaper quoted anonymous crew members who said they raised concerns aboard the ship about the videos when they aired, but were brushed off.
In the introduction to the video, posted by the newspaper, Honors says: “Over the years I’ve gotten several complaints about inappropriate material during these videos, never to me personally but, gutlessly, through other channels.”
In the same segment, he uses a derogatory term for gays.