Updated at 4:22 p.m. on January 4.
The public may be cringing at the videos created by the captain of the USS Enterprise containing gay-bashing and sexual jokes, but many crew members who served with him are rallying to his defense.
Capt. Owen Honors, who has been relieved of his command due to his role in making the videos, received glowing praise today from his sailors, who are joining Facebook groups, signing petitions, and creating bumper stickers to show support.
The Navy is investigating what it called “clearly inappropriate videos” that Honors filmed with government equipment during his time as executive officer—or “XO”—in 2006 and 2007. Honors had been weeks away from deploying with the carrier, but a senior military official told National Journal the Navy was conducting a probe that would likely end his military career. The Navy tends to quickly remove senior officers suspected of misconduct, a legacy of the black eye the service suffered following the 1991 Tailhook scandal.
Enterprise crew members have been told not to speak to the media while the investigation continues, according to multiple postings on a Facebook page in support of Honors.
Yet watching the videos in the news this week brought back fond memories of “XO movie night,” which would air on the carrier’s closed-circuit television every Saturday, according to Ryan Adams, 25, a petty officer second class who served on the Enterprise until 2009.
The controversial videos, which feature clips of men and women pretending to wash each other in shower stalls aboard the carrier, sailors simulating masturbation, eating what is meant to look like bodily waste from a toilet, and laden with slurs against homosexuals, were only meant to “lighten the mood,” Adams said. “They’d serve pizza on the mess decks and people would all crowd around the TV. There would not be an empty seat on the deck.”
In solidarity with Honors, Facebook groups with titles like “We Support Captain O.P. Honors!“ have garnered thousands of members. Nearly 1,000 have signed a petition to keep him as commander of the carrier, and many have swapped out their Facebook pictures for images of Honors in uniform.
Before Honors became XO of the Enterprise, the mood on board was “awful,” said Kimberly Wooster, 32, who served as an electronics technician from 2001 to 2005 and left because she was so unhappy.
“People were leaving because they couldn’t take it anymore. Even as a strong, grounded person it was just very, very hard. Everything seemed to be disintegrating so fast,” Wooster said in an interview, describing a particularly bad 18-month period where the carrier was not deployed, but crew members were working 16- to 18-hour days, seven days a week.
When asked if other XOs or commanders did anything to boost morale on the ship before Honors, Wooster responded, “Hell no.”
“We were not worth their concern or their time,” she said. “I don’t think we even registered on their radar.”
Wooster only overlapped with Honors briefly and said she later received burned copies of his videos.
“People were saying, ‘You left too soon. This guy’s amazing. He’s made us feel like it’s OK,’” she said. “It’s not that the job got so much easier, it’s just that someone was finally listening, aware that these are 18- to 24-year-olds who have lost a lot in the last year and they need something to understand they’re not alone.”
Adams concurred. “That’s part of the XO’s job—to maintain morale on the ship,” he said. “This was his way of doing it. [Honors] gained a lot of respect for doing stuff like this because most officers high up are more worried about what they could do to get promoted, and he was more worried about what he had to do to take care of his troops.”
Loree Gilman, 28, stationed on the ship from 2005 to 2007, said that while the video shown online was not offensive to her, it was in fact “raunchier” than the series in general. “Every week, he poked fun at a different department, but also [would] tell them what a good job they were doing,” she said.
Gilman, who was a nuclear electrician’s mate, said Honors poked fun at the running joke that the engineers down in the plants would never see sunlight. “They’d see him peering out the door towards the sunlight, cringing away from it.”
The videos made Honors much more approachable to the sailors, particularly in sensitive situations, she added.
“Most officers act like they’re better than you because they’re officers, they’re not enlisted, so they won’t really listen to what you have to tell them,” Gilman said. “Honors made the videos with people who were enlisted, along with officers, which made him look more friendly to the enlisted sailors—like he was someone they could actually talk to and he would listen to what they had to say.”
Gilman said she approached Honors once about a crew member who got a little “touchy-feely,” and that he was extremely sensitive about the issue. “He had the fun-loving, easygoing personality about him,” she said, “but he was also there for a job. He was very professional.”
Honors, 49, is a former Top Gun pilot and recipient of several awards, a list that includes a Bronze Star, a Legion of Merit award, a Joint Meritorious Service medal, and others. A 1983 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he went on to fly the F-14 Tomcat and work as a test pilot before serving as XO during two deployments on the Enterprise from July 2005 to September 2007.
Gilman said it would be “repulsive” to relieve Honors of his post. “OK, maybe he didn’t [make the videos] in the best taste, but he’s … a good leader,” she said.