Monday, January 3, 2011

The Year Begins With a Movie Night Controversy

This is sure to be one of those topics that brings the very best out of everyone involved, or perhaps more likely, the exact opposite. You know you have found an old fashioned Salem style witch hunt when only a few weeks before a major deployment from the US Navy's oldest and most famous warship, a four year old video produced by the current Commanding Officer of the USS Enterprise is the top story on Sunday's slow news day ABC national broadcast. Lets begin with the video.



It is only a matter of time before this video represents visual and irrefutable evidence by someone that Captain Owen Honors is a homophobic, sexist, F-Bomb flamethrower who needs to be hung from the highest mountain top as some example of being out of step with the political correct police, after all something like this would supposedly never be tolerated in Corporate America and must mean the Navy is an institution of minimum standards.

Instead of being "the someone" who presumes anything of the sort based on a single video, we'll just focus on the facts as revealed in the article at the Virginian-Pilot and see what we can learn about this latest incident.

You can watch the video yourself, so there is no need to review the details of the video as described by the article. What I think is important is that the videos were created in 2006-2007 time frame, and according to the press article this is the response by the Navy to date:
The Navy released a written statement late Friday in response to The Pilot's inquiries.

"The videos created onboard USS Enterprise in 2006-2007 were not created with the intent to offend anyone," the statement said. "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 statement said that when leaders with the carrier strike group became aware of the inappropriate content in early 2007, production of the videos ended.
This is the latest statement by the Navy on the issue:
The videos created onboard USS Enterprise in 2006-2007 and written about in The Virginian-Pilot article on Saturday, January 1, 2011, are clearly inappropriate. Production of videos, like the ones produced four to five years ago on USS Enterprise and now being written about in The Virginian-Pilot, were not acceptable then and are not acceptable in today's Navy. The Navy does not endorse or condone these kinds of actions. Those in command, Commanding Officers, Executive Officers, and Command Master Chiefs (the command triad) are charged to lead by example and are held accountable for setting the proper tone and upholding the standards of honor, courage and commitment that we expect Sailors to exemplify. U.S. Fleet Forces Command has initiated an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the production of these videos.
Before we look at this solely from the perspective of a single video that has gone viral, let us insure we have the whole picture. Owen Honors was XO of USS Enterprise (CVN 65) from July 2005 to September 2007. That means CDR Honors became XO while Enterprise was at Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipyard for a scheduled Extended Selected Restricted Availability (ESRA). On October 13, 2005 USS Enterprise (CVN 65) departed Northrop Grumman Newport News, Va., for the first time since Sept. 2004 to conduct sea trials and flight deck certification in the Atlantic Ocean. The carrier completed Flight Deck Certification on Oct. 19. The carrier began Tailored Ships Training Assessment (TSTA) at the end of October 2005, and around the same time was offshore participating in exercises that gave us these kind of amazing photographs. After less than six weeks, it was reported on November 19, 2005 the Enterprise successfully concluded its Tailored Ship’s Training Availability period and Final Evaluation Phase (FEP).

Training continued in late February 2006 until COMPTUEX was completed in mid-March 2006, with the carrier returning home on March 31st. The deployment in which the videos were created was between May 2, 2006 and on November 18, 2006 USS Enterprise returned to homeport after steaming nearly 60,000 miles. During their deployment, CVW-1 aircraft delivered 65,000 pounds of ordnance, including 137 precision weapons, to provide unprecedented support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom. They completed more than 8,300 sorties, of which 2,186 were combat missions, while flying more than 22,500 hours and making 6,916 day and night arrested landings.

During the deployment, Commander Enterprise Carrier Strike Group was Rear Admiral Ray Spicer. The Commanding officer at the time was (then Captain) Rear Admiral Lawrence (Larry) S. Rice (now retired), with (then CDR) Captain Owen Honors the XO. Following that tour, it would appear based on public information everyone was promoted, including Captain Honors who later became the CO of USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20) in January 2008 until May 2010. I do not know where Captain Honors served between September 2007 and January 2008.

According to the Virginian-Pilot article there were complaints made at the time. The article highlights two such examples:
One of them said he mailed a complaint about the videos to the Navy Inspector General this week. Others said crew members who raised concerns aboard the ship in 2006 and 2007 were brushed off.
And...
A female sailor who was assigned to the Enterprise at the time said she and a number of other women on board were offended by the videos. She said some crew members complained about them, and in fact, Honors acknowledged it on camera. In one movie, he says, "Over the years I've gotten several complaints about inappropriate materials in these videos, never to me personally but, gutlessly, through other channels."
In other words, complaints were filed up the chain of command, presumably to the CO or the Strike Group Commander, and the complaints were not seen as justification for action during the time of the deployment.

The article notes one more detail I find interesting:
The sailors who spoke to The Pilot estimated that Honors made a few dozen videos for XO Movie Night. They said not all of them contained sexual jokes and anti-gay remarks.

The videos were shot and edited using equipment from the ship's public affairs office, which typically spends deployments documenting and publicizing the good work of sailors.

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.
Lets discuss all of this.

The issue is clearly bigger than one man. No matter how you look at it, the video issue is bigger than one person. Ray Spicer and Lawrence Rice were both promoted, and both had to have had some part in recommending the promotion of Owen Honors after all of this took place. One of the things I find interesting is that the Virginian-Pilot article suggests the leaders in the Strike Group became aware of the inappropriate content in early 2007 and put an end to the videos. The first time USS Enterprise (CVN 65) went back to sea after the 2006 deployment was on February 28, 2007, right after Vice Admiral Daniel P. Holloway became the strike group commander. If we are to read the tea leaves based on available information, those tea leaves would suggest that Vice Admiral Daniel P. Holloway put an end to the video activity.

Not your average carrier deployment. The record also shows that the specific deployment of the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in question was one of the most remarkable Navy aircraft carrier deployments of the last decade in support of the wars. The ship traveled over 60,000 miles, more than twice the circumference of planet Earth, during that deployment. 65,000 lbs of ordinance delivered doesn't count ordinance loaded and not used, and the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) completed more than 8,300 sorties, of which 2,186 were combat missions, while flying more than 22,500 hours and making 6,916 day and night arrested landings. The statistics alone tell a story of remarkable, and very hard work, done by the ship and crew.

All things aren't equal. There are many ignorant arguments that will be made. The first will be anyone who tries to compare Navy deployments of aircraft carriers with a crew of 6,000 men and women with the private sector. One of the questions I would raise is this - is this another example where Navy policy will never be adequate when it comes to having serious discussions regarding sexual behavior of young people? Our nation lives in a culture of sexually driven entertainment, much of which is presented in the context of crude comedy, and the news broadcasts on those same TV networks that actively promote the American sexual culture via entertainment are in this case, among the first news organizations to claim outrage to learn that a Navy XO might have to address taboo issues like masturbation on a ship with several thousand young men and women. I'm just saying - there will be many who live in glass houses who throw stones.

Focus on the serious issues. Most of the content of the video doesn't strike me as a serious issue. It just doesn't. Sue me, but I've been to comedy shows over the last few months that are far more offensive than this video, and like I said, what passes for modern entertainment on the major networks is far worse than anything we see here in terms of what is said. Bad taste? Yep, but apparently it wasn't bad taste until the videos went viral. With that said there are some aspects of the video that should raise serious, legitimate concerns.

For example, I think there are legitimate questions to be asked about Command climate. Was there a lesson learned when looking at the relationship between Aviators and SWOs? When I view the video, that relationship seems to be the first red flag. The videos were supposed to be used for legitimate purposes of port visitation, for example. Well, one issue I might raise is that if the content of the videos are offensive, and result in people not watching them by 'choice' as he even suggests in the video, were the videos with serious legitimate purposes ignored when they might have been useful for legitimate purposes? I raise this question because the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) made a four day port call to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on August 16-20 during the deployment, and I have heard many stories of less than satisfactory behavior involving the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) crew during that port call. An East coast carrier in a Pacific port is rare, and it almost certainly would have meant additional preparations by the XO for preparing the crew for visiting a city never visited by an east coast carrier.

This may not end well for anyone. If I was guessing, this ends as Alpha Mike Foxtrot with the first fired CO of the new year, based solely on the attention in the media of a video several years old. Why? Because history suggests that conclusion. I have no idea where the Navy finds a CO for USS Enterprise (CVN 65) for this deployment, nor how the Navy avoids the serious fallout that will occur when they throw a popular CO to the curb after offensive videos surface all these years later. I think we all recognize that COs of that ship in particular are hard to come by. I also think it is important we keep in mind that Captain Owen Honors has demonstrated excellence as a US Navy CO, because if you watch the time line, Captain Owen Honors was CO of USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20) when it responded to Georgia after the Russian invasion. Just saying, this guy has repeatedly demonstrated effectiveness and excellence in job performance, so maybe the context of the video looks a lot different to the outside audience than it does to the intended audience, and Owen Honors choices including the videos are more in line with what his crew needs to take the edge off very demanding work than a public media story or outside evaluation of video content would easily indicate.

If job performance matters, the public record of this Captain Owen Honors guy is pretty fantastic. All too often when it comes to examining leaders in the Navy, job performance usually gets the shortest stick when it comes to the way the Navy looks at the careers of their own officers. At least that is precisely the point I have tried to make before.

I don't know how Raymond Spicer survives this incident if Owen Honors goes down, because the double standard will absolutely be obvious to everyone in the Navy. Ultimately, I don't know how the Navy takes a different approach, and decides that this isn't an incident by which a CO is fired 4 years later in what is all to similar to a Wikileaks era witch hunt - although I would agree that if Navy leaders can't live and learn from mistakes, then what exactly is the point of teaching? It is a hard call all the way around, because in the end - even if from the outside folks don't like how the XO conducted his business in these videos - there is no denying that the results of the deployment in fighting the war were apparently phenomenal; and that should count for something.

More at CDR Salamanders. Also check out Lex's post and be sure to read the comments.

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