Navy relieves officer over lewd videos

/ Source: NBC News and news services

The Navy on Tuesday permanently removed a senior Navy officer from command of an aircraft carrier over raunchy comedy videos he made and showed to the crew.

The commander of U.S. Fleet Forces, Adm. John Harvey Jr., said Capt. Owen Honors showed "extremely poor judgment" in the videos that included anti-gay slurs and sexual innuendo.

Honors was reassigned to an administrative role. The admiral said the Navy continues to investigate the case of the videos from 2006 and 2007 and will look into what other officers aboard the USS Enterprise knew about them.

Honors was executive officer, or second in command, of the Enterprise at the time and later became its commander.

The Navy had been expected to temporarily relieve Honors of the command while it investigated, but at a press conference Tuesday Harvey said the action was permanent.

"While Capt. Honors' performance as commanding officer of USS Enterprise has been without incident, his profound lack of good judgment and professionalism while previously serving as executive officer on Enterprise calls into question his character and completely undermines his credibility to continue to serve effectively in command,"  Harvey said in a written statement.

"After personally reviewing the videos created while serving as executive officer, 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 in the videos that were created while he served as executive officer on Enterprise," Harvey said.

Harvey did not take questions, including why Honors is just now being relieved of command when the videos were made several years ago. They surfaced when the Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported on them last weekend.

The videos show the crew got an eyeful on shipboard TV: Gay slurs, suggestive shower scenes and mimicked masturbation.

The Navy said Sunday it would investigate the "clearly inappropriate" videos shown through the nuclear-powered ship's closed-circuit television system as part of an onboard movie night.

The Enterprise was deployed in the Middle East at the time the videos were made and is weeks from deploying again.

In this undated photo released by the U.S. Navy, Navy Capt. Owen Honors is shown in an official portrait. The top officer aboard a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier broadcast to his crew a series of profanity-laced comedy sketches in which he uses gay slurs, mimics masturbation and opens the shower curtain on women pretending to bathe together, a newspaper reported. The Virginian-Pilot reported in its Sunday editions that Capt. Honors appeared in the videos in 2006 and 2007 while he was the USS Enterprise's second-ranking officer, and showed them across the ship on closed-circuit television. He took over as the ship's commander in May. (AP Photo/US Navy)US Navy

It's not immediately known why the images are surfacing now. The Virginian-Pilot quoted anonymous crew members who said they raised concerns aboard the ship about the videos when they aired, but they were brushed off.

Over the weekend, the Navy at first downplayed the videos as "humorous skits," then called them "not acceptable" and said they are under investigation.

"They were probably hoping it would all go away, and it didn't and now they have to say something," said Michael Corgan, a career Navy officer who now teaches at Boston University.

Corgan said Honors was guilty not only of an error in judgment but of failing to recognize a changing Navy culture. "Standards shift, of course, and trimming your sails is something you have to do if you're going command people in the Navy," Corgan said. "This guy showed poor judgment."

The military has undergone a cultural shift in recent decades away from the loutish, frat-boy behavior that was exposed by the Tailhook scandal in 1991. It is now working to accommodate gays in its ranks with Congress' repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Also, the Navy is opening its all-male submarine force to women this year.

Corgan said the repeal of don't ask, don't tell probably had nothing to do with the furor now: "What he did would have been dumb 30, 40 years ago."

On Tuesday, Harvey said Capt. Dee Mewbourne will take Honor's place as the commanding officer of Enterprise. Captain Mewbourne most recently commanded the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and while in command he completed two combat deployments supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

"We will support and work with Capt. Mewbourne and the crew of Enterprise to keep them forward focused on their upcoming combat deployment," Harvey said. "This is a difficult situation but the men and women of Enterprise are outstanding Sailors who have completed a very challenging and comprehensive predeploymentwork-up period in a thoroughly professional manner."

Some sailors who served on the Enterprise have taken to Facebook to defend Honors and his video skits for providing a much-needed morale boost during long deployments at sea.

They portrayed Honors as a man who genuinely cared about his sailors and helped them blow off steam with corny and occasionally outrageous videos he concocted every week during six-month tours of duty in the Middle East at the height of the Iraq War. Maintaining morale is typically part of the XO's job.

"It's no worse than anything you'd see on Saturday Night Live or the Family Guy," said Houston native Misty Davis, who worked on the Enterprise's weapons systems during her 2006-2010 tour. She called Honors as "the best the Navy has to offer" and said the skits were welcome entertainment onboard.

'Gutless' complaints
It's clear from the videos that Honors, who took over the ship's command in May, had already gotten complaints when some of them were made. "Over the years I've gotten several complaints about inappropriate material during these videos, never to me personally but, gutlessly, through other channels," he said in the introduction to the video posted by the newspaper.

Navy Cmdr. Chris Sims said in a statement that the videos "were not acceptable then and are not acceptable in today's Navy."

Executive officers and other leaders "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," he said.

Sims said U.S. Fleet Forces Command "has initiated an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the production of these videos."

In a statement to the Virginian-Pilot on Friday, however, the Navy said it had put a stop to videos with "inappropriate content" on the Enterprise several years ago.

"It is unfortunate that copies of these videos remained accessible to crewmembers, especially after leadership took action approximately four years ago to ensure any future videos reflected the proper tone," the Navy said.

It also said the videos "were intended to be humorous skits focusing the crew's attention on specific issues such as port visits, traffic safety, water conservation, ship cleanliness, etc."

Superiors blameless
A phone listing for Honors was not immediately available. He is a 1983 alumnus of the U.S. Naval Academy and was a naval aviator before holding command. He attended the U.S. Naval Fighter Weapons School, also known as Top Gun.

The newspaper reported that the videos were made during the Enterprise's two six-month deployments to the Middle East in 2006 and 2007.

Commissioned in 1961, the Enterprise is the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. It is scheduled to sail two more deployments before it is decommissioned in 2013. It can carry a crew of more than 5,800.

The commanding officer of the Enterprise at the time the videos were made, Lawrence Rice, was later promoted to the rank of the rear admiral and had been assigned to the Norfolk-based U.S. Joint Forces Command, but is no longer there, a spokeswoman said.

The video posted by the newspaper included clips of past "movies" Honors had made — including several statements in which he holds his higher-ups blameless for the material.

"As usual, the admiral and the captain have no idea about the contents of the video or movie this evening, and they should not be held accountable in any judicial setting," Honors says.