Navy Probes Fighter Pilot’s “Inappropriate” Videos

According to various sources, the US Navy plans to investigate the creation and use of “inappropriate” videos on board the USS Enterprise.  The “star” and producer of the videos, which were created in 2006-2007, was reportedly the ship’s second in command, since promoted to its Captain.  US Navy CAPT Owen Honors is a Navy fighter pilot (or “naval aviator”) as well as graduate of the Navy Test Pilot School.  The Enterprise is scheduled to deploy early this year.  The videos were apparently released to the Virginian-Pilot by Sailors who currently remain anonymous.

The Navy’s initial reaction

“The videos were intended to be humorous skits focusing the crew’s attention on specific issues such as port visits, traffic safety, water conservation, ship cleanliness, etc.,” the Navy said in a statement to the newspaper.

It would seem some thought the videos were part of homemade “public service announcements.”  Some have described the videos as “raunchy” and “lewd,” and they are laced with profanity and innuendo — not unlike some late night cable TV “comedy” shows.

Which kind of begs the question…what’s the big deal?  No one has actually accused the Captain of doing anything wrong, except for an offhand and out of context insinuation about “government equipment.”  A few sites have made the Captain out to be “anti-gay.”  Another insinuation:

Of note is the quality of the XO Movie Night videos and the time that Honors appears to have devoted to them, even as the Enterprise was simultaneously supporting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and its air wing was dropping record numbers of bombs. The videos have plots, scripts, props and recurring characters.

The paper doesn’t directly question his professionalism, but it clearly implies Honors must have been derelict in his actual duties to have made videos of such “quality.”  The paper has yet to produce any actual evidence Honors’ duty performance was substandard, or that any time he put into the videos otherwise detracted from his duties.

In the end, it seems the mere statement that an officer would use profanity and make sexual references is considered shocking enough to be indicting in its own right.  Nor has anyone explained why this is an issue more than three years after the fact — other than potential sour grapes or an axe to grind.

Is an officer using the “F-bomb” really front page news?  As previously noted, it’s a veritable fighter pilot tradition.  For those that haven’t already figured it out, such crassness and sexual innuendo are no less commonplace among the fighter pilot community — or the military community as a whole — than they are in the civilian culture from which they are drawn.  In fact, it might be more so.

Military officers are certainly to be held to a higher moral standard, though that observation drips with irony given recent discussions about morality and standards of conduct in the military.  That notwithstanding, one commentator wrote at the New York Times:

The videos resemble something a college fraternity could have put together as a joke and posted on YouTube…But…the videos…appear to be the work of a man who is currently the commanding officer of the Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Enterprise, based in Norfolk and weeks away from deploying.

In his case, it is less the content and more the person responsible for the videos that makes this a “newsworthy” issue.

The videos were not without their supporters:

“People talked about them,” the former ship videographer said. “People looked forward to them — at least the people who thought they were funny.”

It’s likely the primary concern here isn’t what happened; it’s that its on video — and public.  Military officers, enlisted, and whole units likely take part in far “worse” examples of immature humor and politically incorrect initiations (search for Naval equator crossings, for example).  But when its captured on video and released to the public, some may think the military’s stalwart image suffers as a result.  (See the prior discussion on Doofer Books.)

Commanders and other senior leaders rarely improve their standing by partaking in infantile humor and peppering their language with profanity, and Honors is no exception.  A level of professionalism and comportment is expected of senior leaders that Honors didn’t seem to display.  He may have gotten some laughs with his videos, but he also appears to have made some enemies — and depending on the Navy’s response, his very command may be in jeopardy.

Is the behavior shown on the video grounds for complaint?  Absolutely.  Is it actionable on the part of the Navy?  That’s up to them.  Apparently, they decided years ago it was not.  Whether or not the publication of the videos in the press changes their mind remains to be seen.  To be clear, there has not been a single allegation of actual misconduct or question of Honors’ ability to command; there has only been offense expressed over the videos.

Interestingly, if someone had complained from a “religious” perspective, the paper and the public would probably have dismissed the “prudish” criticism out of hand.