Note: I am a career Naval Officer with a further 17 ½ years service in the Army. I have served at sea, ashore, in combat and commanded an Army Medical Company during the Cold War. I have had the honor of serving with many fine Naval Officers as well as Marine and Army Officers as well as Navy Chief Petty Officers and Army and Marine Corps Senior Non-Commissioned Officers. I write this essay due to the numbers of people on Facebook and other sites defending the actions of Captain Honors. My comments and opinions are my own but I believe are in keeping with Naval Regulations concerning the treatment of sailors and the UCMJ and reflective of the Navy’s Core Values of Courage, Honor and Commitment.
Captain Owen Honors was on the fast track to becoming an Admiral. He had an accomplished career in Naval Aviation including command of the “Checkmates” of VF-211 and the Flagship of the 6th Fleet USS Mount Whitney which he commanded during the Russian invasion of the Republic of Georgia. As an aviator he flew over 70 combat missions in three theaters. His downfall came as a result of his actions as the Executive officer of the ship that he was preparing to deploy the USS Enterprise CVN 65.
I am not going to regurgitate the story of his firing other than to say that his actions have created a mini-Tailhook scandal that will be with the Navy for the next 6 months to year. Captain Honors’ supporters on his Facebook support page have attributed his firing to “political correctness” and even linked it to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” The excuses made by many of his supporters which include a number of men and women that served on Enterprise play down the significance of the videos, of which we have seen but a few edited versions. The defenders of Captain Honors are for the most part very profane and vicious in their criticism of the Navy and launch some pretty raunchy and mean spirited attacks on those that defend the Navy or criticize the actions of Captain Honors.
Some in the alternative “conservative media” over at “Accuracy in Media” is all over this linking it to political correctness, don’t ask don’t tell or an intentional effort of the media plot to convict Captain Honors and disparage the Navy. Of course they ignore the fact that they probably wouldn’t want their daughters to serve under such conditions. In fact to me it looks like they are making this an issue because of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. These are the same people that criticize television shows such as Family Guy, Jersey Shore and other shows which supporters of Captain Honors have compared to his video productions.
However the videos are the tip of the iceberg. Captain Honors responded to critics in one of the videos calling them gutless. Reportedly there were people on the Enterprise that tried to warn the command about the videos that were brushed off. This tells me that while he had many supporters that there were a fair number of people who were concerned but feared retribution if they reported the incidents to the chain of command, spoke up too loud or went outside the chain of command such as to the IG or their Congressmen. From what I see Captain Honors showed a callous disregard for good order and discipline on the Enterprise and helped foster a climate in which those that had been sexually harassed discriminated against or were offended by the videos for whatever reason did not feel safe in approaching him. The Executive Officer of a Naval Ship has tremendous power. Most efficiency reports are routed through him before they get to the Captain and all disciplinary cases go through him before they go the Commanding Officer and in most of those matters he can either dismiss charges or refer them to the C.O. for adjudication at Captain’s Mast. In effect almost everything on the ship stovepipes with the XO who along with the Command Master Chief are the men that set the tone for morale on such a large ship where much of the crew, unlike the crews of Cruisers and Destroyers have little contact with the Captain. Believe me as someone who served under excellent CO’s and XO’s at sea and ashore Captain Honors and behavior in “producing” these videos was poor leadership. While many may have found them humorous the XO’s job is not to produce videos but to set an example for all his sailors. Since almost all ships have satellite television or TVDTS (TV Direct to Sailors) as well as internet access, educational programs, religious programs and a host of Morale Welfare and Support activities to cater to a wide variety of interests I have a hard time with the excuses made for his actions by his defenders. The ship’s internal television or SITE TV is used on most ships for either movies or public service type announcements; it seems to me that Captain Honors abused that system as well as the sailors that maintain it. Those on the Facebook page and other sites that claim that the videos were “necessary” to relieve tension from the deployment are either very misinformed or don’t really think much of other people. Add to the fact that liberty during port-calls is another “stress reliever” leads me to believe that the videos were made not for stress relief of the crew but for that of Captain Honors.
Men and women selected as XO’s and CO’s of ships are hand-picked and attend XO and CO courses before they assume the job. In those courses they get the policy of what is and is not tolerated. These are not stupid people, they understand the rules and the fact that Captain Honors produced and showed these and continued to produce and show them after somebody complained to him demonstrates to me that he believed that he was above the law. Yet his supporters act like this is no big deal. I wonder if the supporters had a child, especially a daughter serving in such an environment if they would be so protective of such a commander.
The Navy’s investigation is just beginning and it will be painstaking thorough. I am sure that a sizable number of people that knew about these videos and did nothing despite complaints of some crew members from the senior leadership of the ship to the Carrier Group Staff and Air Wing Staff will investigated. Likewise the Navy will investigate the climate of command during that time period and will look a military discipline, equal opportunity complaints, sexual harassment and assaults, rates of suicide attempts and gestures and a host of other indicators of the climate of command on Enterprise when Captain Honors was the Executive Officer.
This will be somewhat like Tailhook or the Army’s Aberdeen scandal. It will not be pretty; careers will end because leaders failed to do the right thing when this occurred. What is it that they say; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Had leaders acted when this occurred then there would be no scandal now. Because of the actions of Captain Owen and his enablers the Navy and all of us that serve have to endure the aftermath.
Captain Honors’ actions may have been blatantly wrong but those that knew on the closed community of the Enterprise on deployment and had the power to put an end to it then are even more responsible. Captain Honors was the Executive Officer which means that the Commanding Officer as well as the embarked Carrier Group staff should have shut this down to protect the life and career of a promising officer. They are just as responsible and I am sure that when the investigation is completed that all who could have stopped this will be disciplined. This is not political corrected gone mad it is how military professionals conduct matters of honor. Navy Officers are held to a higher standard, the lives of our sailors depend on that and the country counts on it. When we fail we betray the trust of our sailors, their families and the country. To quote Admiral James Harvey of Fleet Forces Command:
“It is fact that as naval officers we are held to a higher standard. Those in command must exemplify the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment which we expect our Sailors to follow. Our leaders must be above reproach and our Sailors deserve nothing less,”