Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Captain Owen (dis)HONORS the Navy

The United States Navy did the right thing when it removed Captain Owen Honors from duty as the Commanding Officer of the USS Enterprise, which is set to deploy for six months to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf. Several years ago, as the Executive Officer, he had produced some videos that were aired as part of the ship's "movie night". These videos contained scenes with two guys in a ship's shower stall together, and two women in a ship's shower stall; a scene where Honors is gesturing wildly (his back was to the camera), implying that he was masturbating; a rectal exam performed on a man; a scene where an officer is supposedly having sex with a donkey in his stateroom; and perhaps the grossest scene (I watched a clip of all these videos on The Huffington Post on Monday night) was the simulated eating of feces from the toilet. Glenn Close even has a surprise cameo appearance, though she has released a statement stating that she found use of her VIP visit to the ship for these videos to be "deeply offensive and insulting."

When I watched the clips, I was waiting to laugh. I failed to find anything funny about this. However, I'm also so far removed from my Navy experience that I can understand how sailors on board the ship might find all of this humourous. As I watched the video clips, I was stunned that an officer of such a high rank was willing to be on camera and say or do some vulgar things all in the hopes of scoring a cheap laugh among the crew during the morale-boosting movie night. Its baffling that he did not have the good sense to think even for a moment how it might turn out if the videos went viral. In the Age of YouTube, Facebook, and WikiLeaks, why would anyone agree to self-incriminating things on videotape?!? STUPID!!! Stupid, stupid, stupid!! And this guy was deemed by the Navy brass to be worthy of commanding one of the largest ships in the Navy fleet!!!

The irony is that this Commanding Officer has the last name "Honors." All I'm left to wonder is where this guy was during the fallout from the Tailhook Convention 1991 scandal, when the Navy underwent sexual harassment training continuously. With the end to Don't Ask, Don't Tell as well as the submarine force being open to women finally, the Navy is about to undergo even more stress. When I was in the Navy, there were still plenty of all-male ships and I was glad to experience the camaraderie of such a crew. Humour such as these videos would be considered typical male humour on board an all male ship. Many wouldn't bat an eye over it. But, its surprising that on a mixed-gender ship, that Captain Honors did not think that he might be crossing the line with the humour. And again, I reiterate, the clips I saw were NOT funny. What I saw brought to mind a creepy scene I saw the documentary Jesus Camp when televangelist Ted Haggard made fun of gay people (he later became famous for seeking massages, sex, and meth from a male escort). Haggard thought he was being funny, too.

According to the New York Times, Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., the commander of the United States Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, said in a statement that after viewing the videos, he had lost confidence in the captain’s ability to lead. Captain Honors’s lack of judgment and professionalism, the admiral said, “calls into question his character and completely undermines his credibility to continue to serve effectively in command.”

Some might think that this "punishment" is a little harsh. However, as the head guy of a major war machine (a Commanding Officer is essentially the CEO of the ship, and aircraft carriers have a crew of between 5,000 and 6,000 sailors), his authority is dependent upon the impression he gives his crew. He is supposed to set the example. This kind of humour might be popular in the bowels of Deck Berthing (the ghetto of any ship), but as a high-ranking officer, there is an article in the Uniform Code of Military Justice where an officer is expected to engage in conduct befitting "an officer and a gentleman." Any hint of scandal or personal misconduct only undermines one's moral authority, especially when the CO has the power to administer non-judicial punishment to the sailors who serve on the crew (I've known guys who've had their rank stripped, their pay garnished, and even given 30 days "bread and water").

On my last ship, also an aircraft carrier (the USS George Washington, which has been stationed in Japan for the past few years...those lucky crewmembers!), I was assigned to XO Admin. I was one of the Executive Officer's yeomen. He was a great guy who did nothing that undermined his moral and leadership authority. When it came to the morale of the crew, he did allow himself to be one of the targets for the dunking booth, which increased his cool factor (the Admin Officer and the department head of the nuclear reactor were both too cowardice to volunteer for this morale booster because they were well hated and knew that there would be a long line of sailors wanting to dunk them). If the XO that I worked for had made videos such as Captain Honors, I would have lost a great deal of respect for him. When I have ZERO respect for superiors, I become very disobedient, subversive, and defiant. The reason is because I live by an internal moral code and if someone over me can't abide by a stricter code than I live by, then I feel they have no authority to make any demands of me. Thus why the strip club incident of last year undermined the leadership authority of my last place of employment. I became very defiant and vocal about what I would no longer tolerate.

I bet Captain Owen Honors is a hardcore Republican, too. I've read online that he is actually quite popular with the crew, which means that he is probably extroverted, a people person, and not afraid to get to know the crew without the rank standing in the way. Yeah, officers like that are great and there is a reason why certain officers enjoy more popularity among enlisteds than others. I'd probably like the guy, too. However, I think he should've known better. How can any officer who saw what the Navy went through in the early 1990s not understand the danger such humour poses for one's career?

When this news broke, I was regretting not sending my Navy novel to agents in December, so that literary agents could see such a novel hit their desk just as this news broke! Darn it! Basically, my novel is about the sexual culture of the Navy and attempts to address the question about what being a man is really about. Its about living to one's values, based on the point of view of one idealistic sailor who finds himself part of an investigation when a gay sailor goes missing at sea. With news of this scandal, I'm going to have to hurry and send off my novel to a couple literary agents this month to capitalize on this story. But as I know the Navy, this organization seems to have a sex scandal every few years. Captain Honors is just the latest casualty. Hopefully, he will enjoy his desk job in some broom closet hidden deep within the bowels of the Pentagon.

I think its high time that the people in the Navy learn sophisticated humour. The kind of humour that is found in irony, paradoxes, contradictions, and the like. One can learn by watching The Daily Show, though its probably too political. Jokes that are truly okay, though, are jokes about the Marines, Army, and Air Force. Despite the controversies, I am proud that I served in the United States Navy. My experience only makes me appreciate the intricacies of this latest scandal all the more.

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