Gay Sailors Support Ousted Carrier Skipper

Monday, 10 Jan 2011 09:31 AM

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NavyCapt. Owen P. Honors, removed from command of one of the Navy's most powerful warships and under investigation for ribald videos made to amuse his crew, is getting moral support from an unexpected quarter — gay sailors who served under his command.

The captain is under fire for videos he made four years ago while executive officer of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, and broadcast to the 6,000 crew members in an effort to entertain them during two wartime deployments. The videos contain scatological humor, foul language, sexual innuendo and the use of the word "fag."

Capt. Honors was relieved of command last week, and there were calls over the weekend for him to face a court-martial.

Interviews with sailors on the Enterprise at the time, including several who have since left the Navy and say they were openly gay when they served, suggest that the videos, far from offending, did, as intended, raise morale through their crude humor. Many of Capt. Honors' former shipmates think the Navy has already gone too far in stripping him of his command.

"I was not offended," said Nowie Solis, who was a mass-communications specialist, third class, in the ship's media department. Mr. Solis, who says he was gay and that his sexuality was known to his shipmates, has since been honorably discharged. "I had plenty of gay friends on board and never heard of anyone who was offended," he told The Washington Times, "He wasn't insulting" gay sailors, added Mr. Solis, "They were just harmless jokes."

Capt. Honors "absolutely did not" create a hostile or homophobic atmosphere on board, added Eric M. Prenger, a gay sailor who also served on the Enterprise at the time. Mr. Prenger, an electronics technician, third class, said the crew looked forward to the videos, which were broadcast on the ship's closed circuit TV system every Saturday night, preceding the showing of a movie.

"They were definitely a tension reliever," said Mr. Prenger, who has also since left the service. "I remember laughing at them."

Gay men and women that join the military do so "knowing they aren't going to be in an environment that appeals to their sense of delicacy," said Mr. Prenger. "Gay or straight, you need a tough skin to get through."

There is a long historical tradition of sexualized humor in the Navy, noted Christopher Pumphrey, a petty officer, second class, who was honorably discharged in 2007. Mr. Pumphrey, a mass communications specialist on the Enterprise at the time, worked in the office where the videos were produced and helped shoot one of them.

Long wartime deployments in the cramped quarters of a naval vessel are "extremely stressful," he said, "You get cabin fever and the way to relieve that is humor, often of a kind that would not be understood or even seem offensive to people who have never been in that situation. … Something about being at sea for such a long time makes a very silly part of you wake up."

Mr. Pumphrey noted that the majority of the crew were under 25 and that the juvenile humor in the videos was a way to get the crew's attention. The videos contained "command messages," dealing with issues such as the need to conserve water.

Several sailors pointed out that one of the videos posted was a "greatest hits" compilation, and gave a distorted impression of the overall tone of the videos.

But Greg Jacobs, policy director of the Service Women's Action Network, said the fact that so many sailors are "trying to normalize this behavior speaks volumes about the attitude to sexual harassment and sexual assault" in the service. He highlighted the comments Capt. Honors made in one video dismissing complaints about "inappropriate material."

"One of the main reasons that the victims of sexual assault and harassment don't come forward [in the military] is that they don't believe their complaints will be heard," Mr. Jacobs said.

Peter Clarke, a former Navy lieutenant and close friend of Capt. Honors, has joined several former Enterprise crew members in trying to organize support for the captain.

Mr. Clarke says a great officer is being railroaded by a media-led campaign of political correctness.

"This looks like it's turning into a witch hunt," he said of the investigation, which will also look at what Capt. Honor's chain of command knew and did about the videos at the time they were made.

In one of the videos, a military lawyer working for the aircraft carrier's battle group command appears, suggesting that senior officers were aware of their existence.

Capt. Honors begins each video with a jocular disclaimer to the effect that neither the captain of the Enterprise, nor the admiral commanding the battle group have any knowledge of the videos, and they should "not be held responsible, in any judicial setting."

Capt. Honors "should be prosecuted," said Mr. Jacobs of SWAN, an advocacy group that, according to its website, campaigns for equal opportunity in the military and "the freedom to serve in uniform without threat of harassment, discrimination, intimidation or assault."

Mr. Jacobs said Capt. Honors "created a hostile work environment for every sailor" aboard the Enterprise, and violated several provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) — the law that governs U.S. service members.

Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice and a lecturer in military law at Yale Law School, said several provisions of the UCMJ might have been breached by the captain — including Articles 133, regarding conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and 134, involving conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline or that discredits the service.

"It does seem to me that Capt. Honors could receive nonjudicial punishment" at a so-called "flag mast" or summary hearing, Mr. Fidell said. "It's also possible he has violated one or another general orders concerning misuse of government property and services" by using Navy public-affairs resources to make and broadcast the videos, he added.

Cmdr. Christopher Sims, a spokesman for U.S. Fleet Forces Command, which is conducting the investigation, declined to comment, saying only, "It would be inappropriate to speculate on any possible outcomes of the investigation."

Cmdr. Sims told The Times the investigation into the videos — ordered by the head of the command, Adm. John C. Harvey, Jr., and headed by Rear Adm. Gerald Beaman — was being conducted by personnel from the command's legal department and from the Navy inspector general's office.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC

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