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January 14, 2011

A surprise behind the Navy video scandal

Keen News Service

Norfolk, Va.--The new commanding officer of the USS Enterprise, the Navy’s best-known aircraft carrier, was relieved of command January 4 over training videos he created that used an anti-gay slur and depicted both same-sex and heterosexual couples having intimate moments in the shower together.

The videos gained widespread media attention for their prominent use of the term “fag,” and their depiction of women crew members as objects of entertainment.

But one unmentioned surprise about the videos is that they also depict a rather blasé acceptance of gays in the military, not one suggesting hostility.

The revelation comes less than a month after opponents of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” warned of dire consequences of repeal for servicemembers in close quarters.

The videos, produced and broadcast to the ship’s 6,000-member crew in 2006 and 2007, were the subject of enormous attention from the media last week, in part because of the anti-gay slurs and depictions of women showering and dancing for male entertainment. Congress just last month passed bills to repeal the ban on open gays in the military and to take steps to reduce the incidence of sexual assault against women service members.

The videos became public after they were reported January 1 in the Virginian Pilot, a daily newspaper in the Enterprise’s home port of Norfolk, Virginia.

The Navy announced on January 2 that it was investigating the actions of Enterprise Captain Owen P. Honors, who produced and starred in the videos and broadcast them on closed-circuit television onboard ship as part of a weekly movie night event available to interested crew members. According to the initial statement from the Navy, the videos were intended as “humorous skits focusing the crew’s attention on specific issues, such as port visits, traffic safety, water conservation, ship cleanliness, etc.”

Several scenes appeared to fit that description. They showed various couples--some same-sex and some male-female--standing close together or touching in a small shower stall and mentioning how much time they had available for water use (three minutes per person). But it’s not clear what issue motivated a scene showing a crude dildo-like device being pushed into one sailor’s rectum and depictions of Honors and other men simulating masturbation in work areas. In another scene, a female service member dances on top of a work area counter surrounded by male sailors watching her somewhat timid performance.

Navy Commander Christopher Sims, a spokesman for the U.S. Fleet Forces Command headquartered in Norfolk, issued a statement January 2 saying the videos were “inappropriate” and that the Navy was investigating “the circumstances surrounding production of these videos.”

Honors was the executive officer of the Enterprise, or second in command, when the videos were produced four years ago. He became commanding officer of the ship last May.

The Virginian Pilot reported that the videos were shot and edited using government equipment, “many of them while the Enterprise was deployed supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Excerpts from the videos (viewable at pilotonline.com) reveal a fairly amateurish effort at humor, relying heavily on crude sexual language, including the slur “fag” and the “fuck you” finger gesture. Honors also uses the Navy acronym “SWO” in a derogatory manner. The letters stand for surface warfare officer and there is apparently some social rivalry between SWOs, who work aboard ship, and aviators who fly jets off the carrier. Honors is both a former pilot and a SWO. In one scene, where Honors plays himself and also his aviator and SWO “alternate personalities,” the aviator calls his counterpart a “fag SWO boy.”

Much of the humor is self-deprecating, showing Honors, who has a buzz cut, wearing a shower cap as he looks for an empty shower. When he opens the shower curtain and finds two men, his reaction appears to be dismay that the shower is not available and reminds the men that they have a time limit for shower use. Ditto for his discovery of two women in a similar shower scenario. In another scene, two lower-ranking service members open the door to Honors’ quarters and discover a mock S&M scene taking place with a leather-masked man--who appears to have been plucked from some movie scene--and a donkey. When one crewman suggests Honors wear a thong as a way of improving the video, up pops a photograph of a hairy man in just a thong with Honors’ head superimposed on top. He is posed between four bikini-clad women on a beach.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell’s gone a little too far there, huh?” quips Honors with a laugh, looking at the photo.

In Video 3, Honors is at his desk, telling his audience that he’s tired of hearing complaints about the training videos being boring, and he’s going to go out and ask various crew members what they want. An “alternate personality” of Honors pops up from below the desk and quips, “I got a great idea. Let’s go ask the Checkmates about being gay. Oh, that’s not a very good idea, is it?”

The Checkmates are a squadron of jet fighters on the ship, and Honors was a member of that squadron for several years. Near the end of the video, as R&B vocalist R. Kelly sings “I don’t see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind” in the background, there are two muscular men in the shower, with one gently rubbing oil onto the chest of the other.

In yet another scene, Honors is shown asleep in his bunk and a male sailor sits up in bed next to him. Honors reacts by laughing.

Admiral John C. Harvey Jr., Commander of the United States Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, issued a statement January 4 saying he had permanently relieved Honors of his duties as commanding officer of USS Enterprise.

Harvey said Honors showed a “profound lack of good judgment and professionalism” that “calls into question his character and completely undermines his credibility to continue to serve effectively in command.”

Harvey indicated he had personally reviewed the videos in question, and that he no longer believes Honors has the “ability to lead effectively.”

Retired four-star general Wesley Clark, speaking to ABC News that day, said the videos were “incompatible with the climate of command” the military seeks to establish.

“We should be treating people with dignity and respect, despite their differences,” said Clark. “Senior officers know this. They’re taught this as they come up through the ranks. This is true for all services.”

Aubrey Sarvis, head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called on the Navy to investigate the videos.

“Captain Owen Honors was acting more like the president of a frat house rather than the executive officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise,” said Sarvis, on January 3. “It is very important that the most senior leadership make it absolutely clear that this kind of bad behavior and poor judgment is not only unacceptable, but that there is no place in the Navy for those who engage in this sort of frat house behavior in the workplace.”

Many news reports focused prominently on the use of anti-gay slurs and other gay references, noting that Congress had just voted in December to repeal the ban on openly gay people in the military.

But the news about the Enterprise videos also broke at a time when Congress has also been putting the military under increasing pressure to address the problem of sexual harassment and assault against female service members. One in three women in a 2009 military report indicated they had been sexually assaulted while serving.

The Washington Post reported that the Navy has made efforts to discourage what has been a long-standing tradition of crude sexual teasing, including a practice of having male sailors dress up as women to perform in “beauty contests” and having sailors making their first trip across the equator lick grape jelly off the belly of a “fat sailor who is dressed in an oversized diaper.” It also quoted several high-ranking retired Navy officers saying that what Honors did was clearly out of line.

Navy policy on sexual harassment states, “Any person in a supervisory or command position who uses or condones implicitly or explicitly sexual behavior to control, influence or affect the pay, job or career of a military member or civilian employee is engaging in sexual harassment. Similarly, any military member or civilian who makes deliberate or repeated unwelcome verbal comments, gestures or physical contact of a sexual nature is also engaging in sexual harassment.”

Honors, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1983, first reported to the Enterprise, as executive officer, in July 2005. He was given command of the USS Mount Whitney in January 2008 and was transferred back to the Enterprise, to become its commanding officer, in May 2010. He makes statements in each video that neither the captain of the Enterprise nor the admiral had any responsibility or knowledge of what’s in the video.

Admiral Harvey said the investigation into the videos would continue to determine whether other senior officers may have had known about the videos and should have taken action.

“Capt. Honors has been reassigned to administrative duties with the Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic,” said Harvey. A new captain took command of the Enterprise on January 4.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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