Rear Adm. Larry Rice, director of strategy and policy for U.S. Joint Forces Command, was scheduled to retire Feb. 1. He served as carrier Enterprise's commanding officer from December 2004 to May 2007. (Navy)
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In an indication of just how seriously the Navy is taking the investigation into the racy shipboard videos aired four years ago aboard the carrier Enterprise, the scheduled Feb. 1 retirement of the ship's captain at the time now Rear Adm. Larry Rice has been put on hold.
"His retirement has been deferred pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation," Rear Adm. Denny Moynihan, chief of naval information at the Pentagon, said Thursday.
Rice, serving as director of strategy and policy for U.S. Joint Forces Command, would have brought a 31-year year career that included more than 3,700 flight hours in Navy fighter jets to a close next month. Instead, he will now report to Fleet Forces Command chief Adm. John Harvey, Moynihan said.
Harvey has launched an investigation into the production of the videos. Officials say it is focused on the actions of senior officers who at the time knew of the videos, and what they did or did not do in response.
On Jan. 4, Harvey fired Enterprise commanding officer Capt. Owen Honors just 10 days before the carrier left for a scheduled overseas deployment for "demonstrating exceptionally poor judgment" in airing weekly short videos aboard Enterprise from 2006-2007 while he served as its executive officer.
Honors, who co-produced the films, employed locker room-style humor as a way to highlight issues such as the need to conserve potable water; in the wake of the firing, he drew exceptionally strong support via a torrent of online comments and letters to editors.
But the films, which included scenes in which same-sex sailors were depicted as taking showers together, along with jokes about masturbation and comments that disparaged those who'd been offended by the films and had complained, as Honors put it in one video, "never to me personally, but gutlessly, through other channels," angered Harvey, who said they called into question "his character, and undermine[d] his credibility to continue to serve effectively in command."
Capt. Dee L. Mewborne, the former commander of the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, assumed command of Enterprise and took the carrier to sea Thursday morning.
Rice commanded Enterprise from December 2004 to May 2007. What he knew or did not know at the time or what the two officers who commanded the carrier strike group at the time the videos were made and shown remains unknown. Strike group commanders and their staffs employ the carrier as their flagship and remain embarked throughout a group deployment.
Rice was succeeded by Rear Adm. Ron Horton now commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific who commanded the carrier until May 2010, when Honors took his place.
The strike group was commanded from August 2005 to February 2007 by now-retired Rear Adm. Raymond Spicer. He was followed by now-Vice Adm. Daniel Holloway, now the commander of 2nd Fleet.
Navy legal officials say Spicer could be called back to active duty to face court-martial charges. The statute of limitations under military law for offenses other than those punishable by death, such as murder, is five years from the date the offense was committed; it's two years for offenses that would be tried by non-judicial punishment.
According to Fleet Forces Command, the investigation will not be unnecessarily rushed. "We want to do what's necessary to be as thorough as possible to be able to come up with the best answers possible," said Cmdr. Chris Sims, a command spokesman.
Sims said the initial thinking was to get the inquiry done quickly. But as the process began and what he described as "numerous interviews" began to be conducted, Sims said the thinking shifted into a mode of, "Let's do what's right here."
Sims wouldn't estimate how long the investigation will take. "As long as it should," he said.
"Thorough," Navy spokesman Moynihan agreed. "But expeditious."