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March 04, 2011

USS Enterprise Crew Videos...The Rest Of The Fallout

Back in January, Captain O.P. Honors was relieved of command of the USS Enterprise just weeks before it was set to deploy in support of operations in Central Command area (Iraq/Afghanistan).

Now the other shoes have dropped and an admiral has been fired.

The chief of Fleet Forces Command brought the hammer down as hard as he could Thursday on those who helped produce or knew of the controversial “XO Movie Night” video skits aired on the carrier Enterprise from 2005 to 2007, recommending that secretarial letters of censure be issued to two admirals and two of the carrier’s former executive officers.

...The latter two officers included Capt. Owen Honors, who as XO starred in many of the videos and had risen to command the ship before he was relieved as commanding officer Jan. 4 by Adm. John Harvey, barely a week before the carrier deployed, and Capt. John Dixon, who followed Honors as XO from September 2007 through June 2009. The two admirals, Rear Adm. Larry Rice and Rear Adm. Ron Horton, commanded Enterprise consecutively from January 2005 through May 2010.

If approved by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, the letters will go into the officers’ permanent files and could negatively affect their military careers.

Horton’s career dead-ended in a hurry. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Patrick Walsh fired Horton Thursday as commander of Logistics Group, Western Pacific, based in Singapore. Horton was relieved for “loss of confidence in his ability to command,” and Walsh said he did so based on Harvey’s findings and specifically for failing to “hold himself responsible for the professional decorum of the ship … [to] provide adequate guidance and oversight; and take prudent measures to ensure compliance with Navy standards.”

...Harvey also issued non-punitive letters of caution to Vice Adm. Daniel Holloway, the current 2nd Fleet commander, and retired Rear Adm. Ray Spicer; both commanded the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group during the time the videos were shown on board. He counseled former air wing commander Rear Adm. Gregory Nosal and Rear Adm. Clifford Sharpe, then a destroyer squadron commodore.

32 other lower ranking officers and enlisted sailors were cautioned by Admiral Harvey. You can see Havey's full statement here.

If Captain Honors had to pay with his career so did the officers who supervised him and were aware of what he was doing. You simply can't protect higher ups and only penalize non-flag officers. The thing is, from my decidedly non-military service perspective, none of them should have been fired in the first place (For the opposing view read Information Dissemination, including the comments)

Were these movies in bad taste (at least in the eyes of most civilians)? Sure. But the vast majority of us have never served months on end in the middle of the ocean locked up with thousands of others in one of the most high stress environments imaginable. Context matters.

Should Honors have thought ahead to what it would have looked like had these vids gotten out? Maybe. But he had much more important things to do...like keep a 45 year old nuclear powered carrier combat ready. That's a job he did by all reports as well or better than anyone.

It strikes me this kind of post facto tut tutting about the videos is dangerous. The Navy trusted the battle group commanders and the CO of the Enterprise to do their jobs. They were on the scene and they saw what was going on and were ok with it. No one was hurt, no mission failed (quite the contrary) and no laws were broken. They made a call and leadership up the chain should have backed that call. What seeds of doubt are now planted in the minds of forward deployed commanders? What other decisions will be questioned years from now?

Oh and the Enterprise? It's deployed. It was part of the group of ships that responded to the pirate attack on a private yacht where 4 Americans were killed by pirates and is now heading towards Libya to be ready for whatever may happen there. I don't doubt the replacement CO and the crew are doing great work but there are no routine carrier deployments. Switching out COs less than two weeks before this cruise over some 4 or 5 year old comedy videos was a striking contrast in priorities.

Added thought:

I've never served in the military so I'm always a bit cautious in weighing in about things like this. That said, we always hear a lot about "civilian control" of the military. That doesn't just mean the President is Commander in Chief, it means "we the people" are in control through our elected representatives. We have a responsibility to ensure that our military reflects our values. We need to do so recognizing the limits of our individual understanding and experiences but collectively, we are responsible for the climate in which our military operates.

Personally, as I wrote in one of the posts I linked above, this is how I think the Navy should have responded.

"Yes, Captain Honors went a bit too far in trying to motivate and entertain his crew during a long and successful war patrol and we've spoken to him about that.

On the other hand, his nearly 30 years of otherwise impeccable service to this nation (list a bunch of great shit he's done), the support of so many of his superiors, peers and most impressively, men and women he has led, makes us think that on balance his talents and contributions vastly out weigh this one indiscretion.

Accordingly, Capt. Honors will continue to command USS Enterprise and the men and women he has trained with and prepared for their upcoming mission in support of our troops fighting in Afghanistan. We have every confidence that Capt. Honors has learned much from this situation and will be an even better officer and leader for it".

We hear a lot from the left about the kind of military culture they want and quite frankly they are getting it. The military, like any part of the government responds to public pressure. It's about time those of us who would rather see a different set of cultural pressures exerted speak out as well. To win any battle, you first have to show up.


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posted by DrewM. at 11:51 AM

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