NORFOLK, Va. — The former commander of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier who produced raunchy videos aboard the USS Enterprise can remain in the Navy despite a finding that he committed misconduct, a Navy panel ruled Wednesday.
Capt. Owen P. Honors let out a sigh of relief after the board of inquiry read its decision, then embraced his wife after months of uncertainty about his career largely came to a close. The board was deciding whether to recommend to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus that Honors should be kicked out of the Navy after nearly three decades of service because of the videos. Among other things, the videos included simulated same-sex shower scenes, anti-gay slurs and references to prostitution in foreign ports.
Honors also faced the possibility of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement benefits if he had been forced out under a different pay grade.
"O.P. is pleased," Honors' attorney, Charles Gittins, told reporters following the hearing. "Retention is a big deal. He has the advantage now of leaving now on his terms."
Honors was removed as the carrier's top officer in January days before a scheduled deployment after several of the videos were leaked to media outlets. He was reassigned to administrative duties because of the videos and Honors believes an officer he had recently disciplined on the ship was responsible for the leak, which he considers an act of revenge.
It was not immediately clear what jobs Honors' may hold in the future, but it is unlikely he would return to the Enterprise. A new commanding officer took control of the ship last week, replacing the commanding officer who was called in for a six month deployment following Honors' dismissal.
Honors said the videos were made to improve morale while teaching important shipboard lessons, such as water conservation. He helped produce and appeared in the videos that aired on the ship's closed circuit television network between October 2005 and December 2007, when he was the ship's executive officer.
Maintaining morale is part of the executive officer's job and by all accounts the videos were wildly popular with the crew. They were shown to thousands of sailors each Saturday night before a feature length film Honors' had chosen and many sailors proudly agreed to appear in them. One of the women in a same-sex shower scene – who at the end of the video was shown to be clothed – said she had even shown the video to her parents.
Honors is one of a number of commanding officers fired from the job by the Navy this year, but his case has drawn by far the most attention. Clips of the videos have appeared on national television, providing a significant source of embarrassment for Navy leaders.
Gittins said convening the board hearing was politically motivated.
"The only reason we are sitting in this room is because the press made a big deal about it," Gittins told the three rear admirals who comprise the board during closing arguments.
In its unanimous decision, the panel agreed that Honors committed conduct unbecoming a naval officer, failure to demonstrate acceptable qualities of leadership and substandard performance.
The board did not elaborate on why it found Honors had committed those offenses but should remain in the Navy. The government had been asking that Honors be honorably discharged.
Cmdr. Michael Luken, who was effectively acting as a type of prosecutor, said during closing arguments that Honors clearly committed conduct unbecoming of a naval officer when he mocked the ship's combat systems officer in front of thousands of sailors viewing the videos aboard the ship. In one video, a toy parrot says he couldn't drink enough alcohol to go get a massage with that officer.
"It is unrefutable that this was inappropriate material for an executive officer to put across the ship," Luken said.
The Navy declined to make Luken available for comment.
Although Honor's career won't come to an abrupt halt for disciplinary reasons, it is still possible he won't remain in the service much longer. Honors is among those the Navy is considering for early retirement as it thins out its ranks to cut costs.
The selective early retirement board reviews certain sailors' service records to determine who should leave the Navy, and a censure letter from Mabus that is already in Honors file because of the videos is likely to work against him. During testimony on Tuesday, Honors said he felt like he had a target on him because of the video incident.
By law, officers selected for early retirement by the board must retire no later than the first day of the seventh month following Mabus' approval of its recommendations. The target date for that approval is Sept. 1.
Online: Honors' website: http://captowenhonors.com
USS Enterprise videos and investigation: http://usfleetforcesfoia.info/enterprise_investigation.htm
Brock Vergakis can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis