The Navy is investigating what it called “clearly inappropriate” videos—filled with sexual jokes and slurs against homosexuals—that were created by the current captain of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, based in Norfolk, Va.
They're the Internet's latest cringe-inducing viral videos, with a military twist: Pairs of women and men are pretending to wash each other in cramped showers aboard the carrier, pictured with bare shoulders to suggest nudity. Other clips show sailors simulating masturbation, eating what is meant to look like bodily waste from a toilet, and undergoing what looks like a rectal exam.
The star of the videos, Capt. Owen Honors, shot and edited the footage with government camera equipment during his time as the carrier’s executive officer, or “XO,” in 2006 and 2007. The clips are part of a homemade series called “XO Movie Night,” originally aired weekly on the ship’s closed-circuit television.
The videos were reported on and published in edited form by the Virginian-Pilot, and the Navy's Fleet Forces Command has ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the production of these videos, according to Navy Cmdr. Chris Sims. The videos "were not acceptable then and are not acceptable in today's Navy,” Sims said in a statement.
Honors took command of the ship in May and is weeks away from deploying, yet he could see his long career come to an abrupt end. The Navy keeps its commanding officers on unusually short leashes and is quick to fire them for instances of misconduct.
From 2005 to 2009, the Navy dismissed 55 commanding officers for cause, an average of 11 per year. In one two-month stretch in early 2009, the Navy fired six commanding officers, a pace so far ahead of its monthly average that the dismissals prompted a front-page story in the Washington Post. None of the fired officers participated in anything that attracted as much public attention as the new videos from the Enterprise.
Honors, 49, is a rare example of a senior officer creating such a disturbing video; other controversial videos of troops have been the work of much younger service members. The pictures and videos of detainees in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison mistreated by U.S. personnel were filmed primarily by enlisted soldiers in their 20s and 30s.
Videos with "inappropriate content" on the Enterprise were stopped by the Navy years ago, according to a Navy statement sent to the Virginian-Pilot on Friday. "It is unfortunate that copies of these videos remained accessible to crew members, especially after leadership took action approximately four years ago to ensure any future videos reflected the proper tone," the Navy said.
The videos were edited by the Virginian-Pilot to mask expletives and disguise the identities of junior crew members. Honors said on screen that his superiors had no knowledge of the videos. “As usual, I want to say that the captain and the admiral ... don't know anything at all about the content of this video or the movie this evening, and they should absolutely not be held accountable in any judicial setting," Honors said.
Honors also notes that he received some flak for the video series and acknowledges its lewdness. "Over the years, I've gotten several complaints about inappropriate materials in these videos, never to me personally but, gutlessly, through other channels,” Honors said in one clip. “This evening, all of you bleeding hearts ... why don't you just go ahead and hug yourself for the next 20 minutes or so, because there's a really good chance you're going to be offended tonight."
The videos are a major black eye for the Navy, which has been struggling to demonstrate its relevance to long ground wars like the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Senior Pentagon officials, bracing for possible budget cuts, are likely to single out the Navy for significant cutbacks, according to defense industry analysts.
In a speech last spring, for instance, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Navy had 11 expensive carrier strike groups—powerful floating arsenals centered around ships like the Enterprise—while no other nation had more than one. Gates, echoing a complaint often heard within the Pentagon, also publicly questioned whether the Navy’s advanced weapons were necessary to fight modern threats like piracy.
Yochi J. Dreazen contributed contributed to this article.