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January 05, 2011

Rendering Honors



Survey Question: What Surprises You More?
The Navy's business is kinetic violence, killing people and blowing things up
Sailors tell crude, vulgar, inappropriate jokes
America has forgotten we're at war in two countries
It's ok for two male sailors to be married.
People have a variety of agendas and motivations

US Navy Captain (and former future Admiral) Owen P. Honors was relieved of command of the USS Enterprise for a series of bawdy videos he made while the ship was deployed in 2006-2007.

The skits were part of the ship's communication program. When the operational situation permits, an evening movie is shown on the ship's internal television system. The evening movie is the one bit of downtime and diversion in a long, hard day that's often indistinguishable from the previous day and the next day. Usually the movie is preceded by an announcement explaining tomorrow's plan of the day, updating the ship's schedule, stressing one of several safety messages — in a word, ship's business.

The average age among the aircraft carrier's 5000 people is about 23. Many experts write about managing today's young people, who are addicted to positive reinforcement, continual praise, an egocentric perspective, and electronic media. The recurring business theme is, how do I motivate and supervise these young people? How does a fighter pilot lead a kid raised by helicopter parents?

Ships don't carry fresh water, they make it by boiling and evaporating sea water and then condensing the steam into fresh water. The fresh water is required first to defend the ship, in such uses as steam catapults, jet blast deflectors, and chill water to cool the electronics. Fresh water left over from military needs and food preparation is available for showers. When the tempo of operational demands exceeds the production of the evaporators, the ship goes on water hours, when you might only be permitted to shower every other day, and then for only three minutes when you do shower.

There's a lot of young kids on board. How do you motivate them to shower every other day (in equatorial conditions) and keep morale up? It's a challenge. Mr. Honors choose to use videos (in the MTV genre) to communicate to his MTV-age crew.

When he called his Surface Warfare Office (SWO) a "fag", it was an airplane type (a brownshoe) teasing a surface-sailor type (a blackshoe), and if you don't understand that context you really can't interpret the situation.

Yes, it is immature, it is politically incorrect, and it was stupid to think that these electronic files wouldn't leak out. In the aftermath of 2004's Abu Ghraid scandal, every officer should have known the risk of video.

The Navy was (and is, today) at war. His motivation was to accomplish the mission and bring his people, your kids, back home safely.

When I heard the story, I thought:
  • Typical pilot.
  • Typical Navy fighter pilot.
  • Why now, about a 2006 video?
  • They're schmucks for relieving him.
Owen Honors is a warrior and a leader who takes his people safely to war, and orchestrates violence in our name. He might be a jerk; I don't know - there are fighter pilots/ Admirals/ second-generation Annapolis grads who are jerks, it's certainly not unheard of. I bet he was a good officer. People who served with him support him. I think I'd have liked to work for him.

His offensive video is a mashup of excerpts from a year's worth of videos. Not remarkably, there's a few minutes of inappropriate content culled from hundreds of hours of tape.

Why Now? Cui Bono? The Enterprise was about to deploy, to go away to the other side of the world for 18 months. Prior to deployment, among those 5,000 20-somethings there's always a few schemes to delay or avoid deployment. That greatest-hits edit was copied, pirated and passed down, and somebody who isn't keen on going to sea thought the scandal would throw the ship off schedule. So we've defrocked a warrior for political incorrectness because of a malcontent, a malingering goldbrick, a 19-year old with a thumb drive and a Hotmail account.

If the Enterprise does delay her deployment, the victims will be the 5,000 23-year-olds who are out there on station now, tired of fighting our wars for us, and who thought they were about to get relieved and go home.

Owen Honors should have known better than to make those videos.
We all should know better than to relieve him.

This, of course, is completely acceptable.

2 comments:

Infinonymous said...

Bigotry is a big (and ugly) enough problem -- especially in the military, it appears -- that tolerance seems inappropriate, particularly where the bigotry is accompanied by demonstrably poor judgment.

It would be worthwhile to review this officer's case and, if appropriate, rehabilitate his career. But, at least until the bigotry is washed out of the system (and that includes open bigots in positions of military authority), the response to this type of misconduct should be swift and strong.

Some of the people who have volunteered to serve at risk of life and limb, like many who have died or been maimed while serving, are gay. Shouldn't we be concerned about them, and the overall improvement of our military that would accompany removal of the bigotry, more than we are concerned about tolerance and leniency for bigots?

MH said...

I don't get this as a firing offense either.

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