U.S. Navy Captain Relieved of Duty in Controversy Over Videos

The U.S. Navy has decided to remove the commander of the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier from his post following news reports that he had produced and starred in videos that denigrated gays and used profane language.

Captain Owen Honors was relieved of command for his “profound lack of good judgment and professionalism,” said Admiral John C. Harvey Jr., commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia.

“I have lost confidence in his ability to command the Enterprise,” Harvey said today at a press conference in Norfolk.

The decision came three days after the Virginian-Pilot newspaper posted on its website edited clips of at least three videos that were made on board the Enterprise in 2006 or 2007, when Honors was the executive officer, or second in command. He was named commanding officer in May 2010.

The videos, designed to entertain sailors during a six-month deployment, included anti-gay slurs, simulated masturbation and two women, shown from the shoulders up, showering together.

Removal from command typically signals the effective end of an officer’s career. Honors has been reassigned to administrative duties, a Navy statement said.

‘A Serious Thing’

“When people in command positions lose their jobs, that’s a serious thing in the military,” said Marine Colonel Dave Lapan, a Defense Department spokesman. “As you rise up in the ranks, more is expected of you, and you are held to a higher standard.”

Congress last month voted to repeal the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, and President Barack Obama signed the bill into law Dec. 22. Lapan said the decision to remove Honors from command was unrelated to the repeal.

“Those types of comments were inappropriate before the law was repealed,” Lapan aid. “It goes back to treating every service member with dignity and respect.”

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy will be scrapped after Obama and the military certify that the repeal will not harm military readiness.

“Captain Owen Honors was acting more like the president of a frat house rather than the executive officer of the USS Enterprise,” Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay-rights advocacy group, said in a statement issued before the Navy’s decision was announced.

Weekly Movie Night

The videos were originally played on the ship’s closed-circuit television system as part of a weekly movie night for the crew of roughly 5,000 sailors on the nuclear-powered ship.

Some parts of the videos were attempts at light-hearted humor, including a scene in which Honors dances around a room with a stuffed parrot. The material that resulted in Honors’ removal from command included skits that denigrated gays, used profanity and featured suggested sexual acts.

In the introduction to one video, Honors uses a derogatory term for gays and says, “Why don’t you just go ahead and hug yourselves for the next 20 minutes or so, because there’s a really good chance you’re going to be offended tonight.”

The Navy will continue to investigate the videos “to include the actions of other senior officers who knew of the videos and the actions they took in response,” the Navy said in its statement.

Facebook Debate

Supporters and opponents of Honors have squared off on dueling Facebook pages since the videos surfaced over the weekend.

John Rilling, an Honors admirer, said he served on the Enterprise during deployments when the videos were shown.

“When you’re working 12 hours on, 12 hours off, on the flight deck all 12 hours of your shift in the 120-degree heat of the Persian Gulf, you look forward to the videos and the skits in question,” Rilling wrote on the “Support Captain Owen Honors” page, which had more than 10,000 fans as of Tuesday.

Stevan LaVigne, on the “Dump Owen Honors” page, posted: “Gay bashing, hazing, rape and all the other things the old-boy network are getting away with must stop. Women are victimized constantly in the service and people like Honors just promote it.”

Honors could not be reached for comment.

In each of at least three videos, Honors said that his superiors -- “the captain and the admiral” -- didn’t know “anything at all about the content of this video” and should not be held responsible.

Honors, designated a naval aviator in 1985, has accumulated more than 3,400 flight hours in 31 types of aircraft, with more than 700 landings on aircraft carriers, according to his official biography. His awards include the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star and a Joint Meritorious Service Medal, the biography said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates was not involved in deciding Honors’ case, Lapan said.

-- Editors: Steven Komarow, Leslie Hoffecker.

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