— Last year, the Navy relieved 17 commanding officers for various lapses, personal and professional. It was a worse than average year, but not something to signal undue alarm, a Navy spokesman said Monday.
Now, 2011 could be off to an inglorious start with an inquiry into the commander of the Norfolk-based aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, who produced and starred in videos that included profanity, anti-gay slurs, hand motions that mimic masturbation and scenes that suggest pairs of men and pairs of women showering together.
It has sparked a debate, online and elsewhere, about Capt. Owen Honors, who did the videos in 2006 and 2007 when he was the ship's second in command.
Did he cross the line with an effort that was offensive and had no business in a military setting — not to mention being made at taxpayers' expense — or was it a parody to ease the tension of a crew spending months at sea in close quarters, something that a civilian just wouldn't understand?
And should the inquiry focus only on him, or on the officers above him?
The Navy has said the videos are obviously not appropriate. U.S. Fleet Forces Command had no comment Monday about the progress of its investigation, which began after the Virginian-Pilot ran a story and published a portion of a video on its website over the weekend.
Hundreds of people have jumped to Honors' defense. A Facebook site set up to support him prompted more than 1,500 people to click "like" as of late Monday afternoon. A competing Facebook page calling for him to resign had only 46.
The investigation could spread beyond Honors since higher-ups promoted him after the videos were produced, said Michelle Lindo McCluer, executive director of the National Institute of Military Justice, a civilian organization affiliated with American Unversity law school.
"He still gets promoted, and that's concerning," she said. "Who knew what, where, when?"
In the videos, Honors said his superiors should not be blamed, but it is perhaps easier for him to be held accountable in today's digital world.
"Certainly with all the electronic chatter, there are plenty of opportunities for people to be found out," McCluer said. "Everyone is in close quarters."
And she was somewhat surprised by the number of people who came forward to defend Honors — "more so than you would think in 2011," she said.
But there was no shortage of defenders via Facebook. Some people said they served on the Enterprise when the videos were shown, and what was known as "XO Movie Night" was harmless fun.
That included Ryan McConnell of Houston, Texas, who served on the Enterprise during both deployments in question, about 13 months total. He was an airplane mechanic whose unit was attached to the carrier, and sent an e-mail to the Daily Press with his thoughts.
"I think these videos provided the crew with something to look forward to every week," he said. "I would also like to note that nobody was forced to watch these videos, it was an option that most onboard chose to partake in. Sometimes it was even hard to get a seat in the galley, where the big screens were, unless you showed up early because it was so crowded."
He didn't recall anyone saying they had been offended by them.
He described Honors as someone who "knew how to keep everyone's head up, which I believe is extremely important while at sea."
He said he was shocked to see the story.
"Everyone on the ship respected Capt. Honors," he said.
Of the 17 commanding officers relieved last year, the most common transgression involved personal behavior, be it fraternization, sexual harassment, problems with temperament or getting arrested. Others were related to job performance, such as commanding a ship that struck a buoy or hit a pier.
Ten of the 17 officers commanded ships. Seven headed up facilities such as training schools, weapons stations or, more locally, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
On the average, 12 to 15 Navy commanders are relieved each year, said Lt. Justin Cole, a Navy spokesman. So 17 is worse than normal, but also well below the 26 commanders who were relieved in 2003.
"Those numbers can go up or down by a couple each year," Cole said. "What remains constant are the high standards to which all COs are held."
In Hampton Roads, the commander of the destroyer USS Truxton was relieved in February for an inappropriate relationship with a female officer in his command. The CO of the dock landing ship Gunston Hall was relieved after being charged with sexual harassment and other offenses. The CO of Norfolk Naval Shipyard lost his command due to a loss of confidence in his ability.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Ship and skipper
The skipper: Capt. Owen Honors is a 1983 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and was a naval aviator before holding command. He attended the U.S. Naval Fighter Weapons School, also known as Top Gun.
His ship: The USS Enterprise was commissioned in 1961 as the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. This controversy has surfaced as the ship is preparing to deploy.
It can carry a crew of more than 5,800 and is home-ported in Norfolk.
This guy expressed the views that all Americans should be proud with he is not a racist bigot to my view but he had what he had to say if you set emotions aside.