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Capt. Dee Mewborne will assume command of carrier Enterprise in wake of the firing of Capt. Owen Honors. (MC3 Brandon Hill / Navy)
Fleet Forces Command statement on firing
High-profile firings in the Navy on the rise
Ship videos raise questions about Navy culture
Navy to probe lewd videos shown to carrier crew
Scoop Deck: Support for Capt. Owen Honors
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Capt. Dee Mewborne will leave his current job as chief of staff for Navy Cyber Command. He most recently commanded the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower and in that role completed two combat deployments in support of the war in Afghanistan. (Navy)
Fleet Forces Command chief Adm. John Harvey fired the commander of the carrier Enterprise early Tuesday afternoon for "demonstrating exceptionally poor judgment" while serving as the 49-year-old carrier's executive officer in 2006-07, a period when he helped produce a series of meant-to-be-humorous video skits that included scenes of simulated same-sex showers and masturbation.
"While Capt. [Owen] Honors' performance as commanding officer of Enterprise has been without incident, his profound lack of good judgment and professionalism … calls into question his character, and undermines his credibility to continue to serve effectively in command," Harvey told a group of reporters in his Naval Station Norfolk office.
Harvey said he "lost confidence in his ability to lead effectively" after he "personally reviewed" the videos.
"It is a fact that as naval officers, we are held indeed, we must be held to higher standards of performance and conduct," Harvey said. "Those in command must exemplify the Navy's core values of honor, courage and commitment, which we expect our sailors to embrace and call their own."
Harvey said Capt. Dee L. Mewborne would assume command of Enterprise. Mewborne, current chief of staff for Navy Cyber Command, most recently commanded the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower and in that role completed two combat deployments in support of the war in Afghanistan. Enterprise is on the verge of leaving port to begin its final overseas deployment. Harvey said Mewborne "knows what needs to be done" to oversee the mission.
"I have complete confidence in his ability to lead the sailors of Enterprise as they deserve to be led, and must be led, on their upcoming deployment," Harvey said, acknowledging that "this is a difficult time" for the crew and family members.
Harvey said the relief of Honors "does not end the investigation into the inappropriate videos" that Honors helped produce. The investigation, he said, "will continue to look at all aspects of the production of the videos, to include the actions of other senior officers who knew of the videos, and what they did or did not do in response."
Harvey declined to take questions following the statement.
Honors' relief comes three days after a story about the video productions and edited excerpts from three of the videos were published on the website of Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot newspaper. The Virginian-Pilot reported that Honors was told by a superior in early 2007 to quit producing the videos. Honors went on to be selected for two commands the Enterprise and the Mount Whitney, the 6th Fleet command ship.
But widespread media attention on the videos at a time when the Navy continues to face sexual assault and harassment issues, and prepares to openly integrate gays into the service made it seem likely that Honors would be disciplined in some manner.
The times, one Navy official said early Tuesday, have changed.
"The culture has changed," the official said. "What was once acceptable 30 years ago is very clearly not acceptable now."
Honors drew waves of support from thousands of sailors and ex-sailors who have flooded media outlets with letters and a Facebook page created to support Honors that as of Tuesday night had accumulated nearly 2,800 members. Letters to Navy Times overwhelmingly have expressed support for Honors.
"I'm personally sickened by what's going on with these videos!" wrote Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Brandon Goode. Goode, who is stationed at Pearl Harbor, says he served aboard Enterprise during the carrier's 2006 and 2007 deployments.
"Every Friday EVERY sailor and I couldn't wait to finally get a break, sit down and watch XO MOVIE NIGHT," Goode wrote. "Captain Honors would speak for a little bit and let us know what's going on, then he would put on his skits and they WERE HILARIOUS and I can remember everyone laughing, no one was offended. It boosted our morale and made us look forward to ending another week at sea.
"Everyone, the media, and especially people WHO NEVER SERVED should leave the Captain and his career alone. He's a great man, and one of the rare officers who spoke to everyone as if they were just another man or woman. HOO YA to Captain Honors!"
Not everyone agrees. Some commentators called the videos which also include scenes of a simulated anal cavity examination, a brief film clip of a bestiality scene and one of Honors' "alternate personalities" (he plays three roles in the same scene via a video trick) calling another "fag SWO boy" lewd, sexist and homophobic. Or at the very least, insensitive. Others raise questions about Honors' leadership style.
"The issue here is not about political correctness," wrote reader John DeCarolis. "The issue here is that a senior leader is expected to be a role model for those under his/her leadership - and this person failed.
"I've been stationed on three ships, and I understand ‘the morale thing,' " DeCarolis wrote. "But a CO/XO should not engage in, or condone, this behavior."
A former Navy ship commander who said he supports the spirit of what he feels Honors was trying to accomplish with the videos, and says he found much of it humorous, agreed that Honors probably took things too far.
"There was good intent there," said Bryan McGrath, who commanded the destroyer Bulkeley from 2004-06. "I think he was trying to motivate a crew that was facing a huge task. I think he just went over the line."
McGrath said he didn't think the video productions were a firing offense. "It certainly should bring some reprimand," McGrath said. "And that reprimand could keep the captain from becoming an admiral. But I don't believe it's worth removing him from command in general, and specifically … from command of that most difficult ship to replace the captain of."
Others did. "The homophobic, misogynist, juvenile Capt. DIS-Honors should be relieved immediately," reader Joan M. Jacobs wrote as the news of the firing was breaking Tuesday. "He is a disgrace to the service and country. I wouldn't allow him to command a rowboat in the future."