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Should Navy Capt. Owen Honors Have Been Fired?

Should Navy Capt. Owen Honors Have Been FiredYesterday, the highly decorated commander of the USS Enterprise, Navy Capt. Owen Honors, was permanently relieved of command for racy videos he made to entertain the ship's crew of about 6,000 sailors about four years ago. Honors was the ship's second in command or XO (executive officer) at the time.

While the videos were intended to boost morale, they did go over the top with raunchy content that included slurs about gay men, skits simulating masturbation, and of course, liberal use of f-bombs. If Honors was an executive in a corporation, I'd fire the guy in a heartbeat and so would you.

That said, commanding a nuclear powered aircraft carrier during wartime deployment is not a corporate environment. And other than being surprisingly well produced, this type of entertainment was by no means unusual in the annals of Navy history.

Moreover, the videos were shown weekly during "XO Movie Night." The ship's captain and, in some cases, the fleet admiral, were on board and presumably saw the taped skits. Those individuals have not, as of yet, been fired. In fact, Navy officials have known about the videos for years.

So, once you get over the shock value and understand the whole sordid story, it becomes clear that the U.S. Navy is using Capt. Honors as a convenient scapegoat to cover its collective butts. Against what, you ask? Against a media-fueled scandal and, more than likely, litigation by special interest groups including a military gay rights group appropriately named the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

In a statement yesterday, Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, threw Capt. Honors under the bus, stating that he was relieved of command because, "... 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."

Should Honors have been reprimanded for his bad judgment? Yes. Years ago. Maybe he shouldn't have even been promoted to captain of the Enterprise last May. But should he have been permanently relieved of his command - essentially fired - and relegated to an administrative function simply because the public has gotten wind of the videos? Absolutely not.

Here are four reasons why I think Capt. Honors is getting a raw deal in this scandal:

1. He was doing his job and he excelled at it
It's traditionally the responsibility of the ship's XO or executive officer to maintain the morale of the sailors, and the Navy has a long history of lewd and lascivious behavior in the name of keeping everyone sane during long and often brutally-tedious deployments. Videos to boost morale, including self-deprecating humor by senior officers so they're less daunting and more like "one of the guys," are nothing new.

2. Navy officials, including the ship's captain and fleet admiral, had known about the videos for years
Honors was acutely aware that his videos had offended some people. In one video, he tells the audience, "Over the years I've gotten several complaints about inappropriate material during these videos," and "if you offend easily, you shouldn't watch it." He also states, tongue in cheek, that the captain and admiral - who were both on board at the time - knew nothing about the video and "should not be held accountable in any judicial sense." Honors knew exactly what he was doing ... and so did they.

In fact, there were apparently enough complaints that the Navy put a stop to videos with "inappropriate content" on the Enterprise about four years ago. And when the Virginian-Pilot first released the videos on Saturday, the Navy downplayed them as "humorous skits." In other words, the Navy's actions appear to be motivated solely to minimize their exposure as opposed to being out of any real sense of morality or duty to protect offended sailors.

3. Capt. Honors is a highly decorated officer who has flawlessly and selflessly served the Navy and America for decades
Capt. Honors has flown 85 combat missions in three different theaters. He's a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and attended the U.S. Naval Fighter Weapons School, aka Top Gun. Honors is highly decorated, including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Joint Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medals, Meritorious Service Medal, and various campaign/unit awards. And, out of 50,000 naval officers, he's one of an elite group of 11 chosen to command an aircraft carrier.

In fact, he was just promoted to his current post, as Captain and commander of the USS Enterprise, in May of 2010. And yes, Navy officials knew all about the videos when they promoted him.

4. Capt. Honors was a consummate professional who knew the difference between conducting business and boosting morale and took both seriously
There has been an outpouring of support from officers and sailors who served under his command:

"Capt. Honors is a very professional person, but he knew when to have fun," Jessica Zabawa, who served on the Enterprise for three years, wrote in an e-mail to the AP. "Capt. Honors knows when to be serious and when it's time to unwind."

According to former Petty Officer Phillip Ciesla, who also served on the Enterprise at the time the videos were shown, "When you're out to sea for months on end, you're halfway around the world, and you're working arduous hours - 15 to 18 hours a day, temperatures of 120 degrees or more in the Persian Gulf - morale starts to get a little low. And you just want a sense of normalcy, you know, something to boost your morale, just a little something to get you through your day, just a little laughter.

Multiple Facebook pages, including one with over 14,000 "likes" as of this writing [now 21,000 as of 10 am Wed PST], include postings by other sailors who defended Honors and his morale-boosting videos during long deployments.

According to the New York Times:

The typical comment was that the videos were not only morale boosters but also funny and that the news media were overreacting.

"Honors was a great commander and those videos were in no way offensive to anybody that I knew on that ship," wrote Ryan Mconnell, who was on board the Enterprise in 2006 and 2007. "I stand behind him 100 percent and I actually looked forward to his videos every week."

According to the Huffington Post:
They [sailors] 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."

"He was a caring professional and, yes, he has a sense of humor, but you need that on a boat," said Misty Davis, who served on the Enterprise from 2006 to 2010.

Well, that's my take. Now what do you think about Capt. Honors? Did he deserve to permanently lose his command or has he been thrown under the bus by Navy officials to cover their butts and minimize their legal exposure?

Image US Navy

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