The news story of Capt. Owen Honors, Captain of the USS Enterprise, is a very sad one. He is being relieved of command for creating, participating in and distributing very “raunchy” videos to the crew of the Enterprise back in 2007. I am ambivalent in my feelings about this.
Let me take his side for the moment. I was an officer aboard an aircraft carrier for two years during the Vietnam war. These type ships were deployed for up to 10 months at a time. They would have occasional liberty ports in foreign waters but never at home during the deployment. For every break they got in a port while refitting they would steam around in the ocean for months at a time. During this time, they would undertake some of the most hazardous duties that exist in the military short of actual combat. And for the aviators, it was actual combat. To launch and recover jet fighters and bombers off of a moving, bobbing 90,000 ton landing strip in all kinds of weather and darkness is no mean feat. The dangers to pilots and flight deck crew are legendary. Perhaps you recall the incident in the 60’s involving now Senator John McCain aboard the USS Forrestal where several hundred sailors were killed and the ship almost lost. This was not from any enemy action, just an accident up on the flight deck. On my ship, which was not deployed in a war zone, we had several fires aboard every month. Fortunately, few were serious and all were brought quickly under control by well trained crew. When you think of all the ship’s fuel, the aviation gasoline and the munitions aboard, it’s a sobering vision.
OK, you’re wondering, what’s his point? My point is these folks are out there risking life and limb everyday with no home to go to or places to let off steam. There’s no soccer games or neighborhood parties to attend after a day at the office. The officers and crew are left to their own devices for entertainment to relieve the pressure and stress of what they do every day. That includes making movies that parody their lifestyle. It’s a morale booster and not uncommon.
Having said all that, lets take a look at the downside of Captain Honors’ actions. At the time of the questionable videos, he was Executive Officer of the ship. That is the second in command, ranking above all other officers and enlisted, except the Captain. (In the Navy and Coast Guard, Captain is a rank and a command position. For example, the “Captain” of a small ship might only be a Lieutenant in rank.) The very position of “Exec” evokes images of a seasoned, intelligent officer who is to be respected and obeyed without question. Someone who, if put in the position, would be expected to make decisions to save the ship and the lives of the crew. Of course that goes doubly for the Captain of the ship. He is God while that ship is deployed.
Captain Honors, who is now the Captain of the Enterprise, crippled his standing with the crew when he got involved in this incident. You are hearing them all come to his defense now, but to me, that is only an indication that he has become “one of the guys” in their minds. This is a grievous position for someone in command to put themselves in. Discipline in the military is the most crucial element for the success of any unit. Perhaps you have heard the old adage “familiarity breeds contempt”. That’s at play here. The Naval Command must be sure that all of its commanding officers, especially the ones in charge of multi-billion dollar ships with nuclear weapons aboard, are sound in their judgment. Honors was lax in judgment in “mingling” with the crew in this manner.
I am disheartened by the loss of a career for a brave and accomplished officer such as Owen Honors. Naval aviators are among America’s best and brightest. But none are above the morals and traditions of the service as a whole. The country’s security depends too much on it.