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Enterprise deploys with new CO

Jan. 13, 2011 - 02:35PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 13, 2011 - 02:35PM  |  
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NORFOLK, Va. — The carrier Enterprise pulled away from frosty Norfolk Naval Station on Thursday morning with a brand-new captain and a new entertainment mandate: "XO Movie Night" has been canceled.

The new commanding officer also delivered a subtle swipe at the racy content of the short videos produced by the ship's then-executive officer, Capt. Owen Honors - content some observers viewed as lewd, sexist and homophobic and which got Honors fired Jan. 4 as the flattop's skipper.

"I've found that there are more effective ways to communicate with the crew," said Capt. Dee Mewbourne during a pierside meeting with reporters before getting the massive ship underway at the head of a five-ship carrier strike group. "And so we're going to use those ways. There are things … that are fun, but also, everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Things like karaoke, or games on the mess decks, or video games."

Asked how he planned to keep morale high in the wake of the firing and during what will be at least six months at sea, Mewbourne said, "I think morale stays high, first and foremost, by professionalism."

Shipboard movies are a staple of Navy life, and those will continue on Enterprise, Mewbourne said. But four to five years ago, weekend movies shown on the carrier were preceded by a short video clip co-produced by Honors and the ship's public affairs office. The meant-to-be-humorous video skits included scenes of simulated same-sex showers and masturbation.

Those clips were popular with many sailors, judging by the torrent of online support after Honors lost his command, but were repugnant to others. In one video clip, Honors denigrated those who'd complained.

In firing Honors, who became the flattop's commanding officer in May, Fleet Forces Command chief Adm. John Harvey cited him for "demonstrating exceptionally poor judgment" in co-producing and airing the videos. They'd become public after several were leaked to and published by Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot newspaper Jan. 1.

Other carriers, such as the carrier Abraham Lincoln, produce whimsical homemade films such as "The Boat Show" and the strike group commander's "Guadcast" that lack raunchiness but are said to be popular with the crew. Such efforts on Enterprise, however, are, for the moment, history.

Mewbourne, who commanded the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower from November 2007 to August 2010 and made two wartime deployments during that time span, had but 10 days to prepare for the Enterprise cruise after Harvey tapped him to replace Honors. He said his experiences on Eisenhower adequately prepared him for the Enterprise command, and indicated that there hasn't been a residual effect on his sailors.

"The crew is ready," Mewbourne said, adding by way of a compliment to his predecessor, "Tremendously well-trained. They were prepared." He called himself "absolutely blown away" by the level of preparedness he encountered.

Mewbourne said that when he first met with the crew — sailors say he also held a crew-wide captain's call aboard ship on Sunday — he dealt with the Honors firing head on.

"I told them that the circumstances that brought me here, although they were very unfortunate, [that] we have got to look to the future," Mewbourne said. "And the crew acknowledges that. With only about 10 days to go before deployment, we had to focus on what we had to do. And that's this day, and the days, the months, that will come afterwards.

"The crew accepted that," Mewbourne said, adding that he was "warmly welcomed" all around. "They acknowledge that they didn't like the circumstances, either. No one does. But we are now focused on the future. And the crew is ready."

So much so, Mewbourne said, that he feels the Honors controversy will soon fade.

"I'm quite convinced that once we get here in the channel this afternoon … and then we get headed toward our destinations to the east, we get on mission, that this will become something that is quickly forgotten," Mewbourne said.

While there was no operational handoff between him and Honors, as normally would be done, Mewbourne said the two officers had traded e-mails and that Honors had offered to assist "in any way that he could."

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