Captain relieved over videos, but many clips depicted nonchalance toward gays in the Navy

The Navy on Tuesday, January 4, relieved from command permanently its new commanding officer of the USS Enterprise, the Navy’s best-known aircraft carrier, after widespread media attention for 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. Except for use of the term “fag,” the videos depict a rather blasé acceptance of gays in the military, not one suggesting hostility. But they show women crew members being used as objects of entertainment.

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 this 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 a ban on gays in the military and reduce sexual assault of women servicemembers.

The videos became public after they were reported January 1 in the Virginian Pilot newspaper. The Pilot is a daily newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia, homeport for the Enterprise.

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 on Sunday, 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 showed various couples—same-sex and male-female—standing close together or touching in a shower together and mentioning how much time they had available for water use. But it’s not clear what issue motivated a scene showing a medical device being pushed into one sailor’s rectum and depictions of Honors and other men simulating masturbation. In another scene, a female service member dances on top of a counter surrounded by male sailors.

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

Honors was second in command, or the Executive Officer (or XO), aboard the Enterprise when the videos were produced. He became commanding officer, or captain, of the ship last May.

According to the Virginian Pilot newspaper, 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 reveal a fairly amateurish effort at humor, relying heavily on crude sexual language, including use of the slur “fag” and the “fuck you” finger gesture. Honors also uses the Navy acronym “SWO” in a derogatory manner; SWO stands for surface warfare officer, or someone who works onboard ship. There is apparently some social separation between SWOs, who work onboard 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 his aviator and SWO “alternate personalities,” the aviator calls the SWO a “fag SWO boy.”

Much of the humor is self-deprecating, showing Honors 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 he appears to be reminding the men that they have a time limit for shower usage. In another scene, two lower-ranking servicemembers open the door to Honors’ quarters and discover a mock S&M scene taking place with a leather-masked man and a donkey. And, when one crewman suggests Honors wear a thong as a way of improving the video, up pops a photograph of a hairy man in a thong with Honors head superimposed on top, posed between four bikini-clad women on a beach.

“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’s gone a little too far there, hunh?” quips Honors with a laugh, looking at the photo.

In Video 3, Honors is at his desk, telling his audience that he’s so tired of hearing complaints about the training videos being boring, 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 onboard the ship; Honors was a member of that squadron for several years.

Then, near the end of the video, with a song by R&B vocalist R. Kelly, singing “I don’t see nothing wrong, with a little bump and grind,” the video shows two muscular men in the shower, with one gently rubbing oil onto the chest of the other.

In one 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 (USFFC) in Norfolk issued a statement late Tuesday 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 on Tuesday morning, 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, in a statement released Monday. “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.”

The military has been under increasing pressure to address issues, such as sexual harassment. And many news reports focused 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 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 servicemembers. One in three women in the military report having 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 have 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 USS Enterprise Tuesday afternoon.

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