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By Lisa Keen, Keen News Service
The Navy on Tuesday, Jan. 4, relieved from command 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. The videos gained widespread media attention for their prominent use of the term “fag,” and their depiction of female crew members as objects of entertainment.
But one unmentioned surprise about the videos is that they also depict a rather blase acceptance of gays in the military, not one suggesting hostility. And 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 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 the ban on gays in the military and to take steps to reduce the incidence of sexual assault against women servicemembers.
The videos became public after they were reported Jan. 1 in the Virginian Pilot newspaper. The Pilot is a daily newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia, homeport for the Enterprise.
The Navy announced on Jan. 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 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. And in another scene, a female service member dances, somewhat timidly, on top of a work area counter surrounded by male sailors watching her.
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, 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 pilotonline.com) 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, and there is apparently some social rivalry 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, 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 usage. Ditto for his discovery of two women in a similar shower scenario. 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 (that appears to have been plucked from some movie scene) 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 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, hunh?” 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 onboard the ship, and Honors was a member of that squadron for several years.
Near the end of the video, with a song by R&B vocalist R. Kelly playing in the background with the words, “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.
And 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 (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.”
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.”
(c) 2011 Keen News Service