I hadn’t planned to comment on the matter of Captain Owen Honors, the commanding officer of the USS Enterprise relieved of command following the release of some off-color videos that he recorded as the Enterprise’s executive officer (XO) in 2006 and 2007. But then Chris Kennedy in our media department twisted my arm, and the next thing I knew I had written 900 words for CNN.
Before I delivered the essay for publication, I solicited feedback from a number of former officers, and one still serving, including several of my classmates at the George Washington University NROTC unit. Not all agreed with my take – I faulted Honors for his poor judgment, and concluded that the punishment fit the offense – but all appreciated the even-handed approach that I tried to take with the issue.
I was grateful for the timely feedback, and for the response to the article over the last 24 hours. I have received far more emails following this piece than for anything that I have ever written (and I’ve written almost 150 articles in nearly eight years at Cato). There are more than 530 comments on the CNN site, and 380+ Facebook recommendations. Most of these responses have been encouraging, and a few have thanked me for my perspective, even when they disagreed with me. A few other messages, including from those who served with Captain Honors, faulted me, especially, for claiming that he had allowed a “hostile work environment” to be created on the Enterprise. These messengers assured me that nothing could be further from the truth. The crew, I am told, loved Honors as XO.
In retrospect, it was inappropriate for me to use a phrase that has a very particular legal meaning – ”hostile work environment” – especially when I had no first-hand knowledge that that was an accurate description. On the contrary, I had some evidence from news reports that morale on the Enterprise was quite high. I have since learned that there was a morale problem on the ship for a while, in part due to the fresh water restrictions that the shower scenes in the videos tried to make light of. By many accounts, XO Honors was instrumental in turning this state of affairs around. The Enterprise, a bear of a ship to operate, the oldest nuclear-powered vessel in the fleet, with eight (8!) reactors, earned unit citations under Honors’s leadership.
All that said, I stand by my original assessment. In striving to improve the crew’s morale, Captain Honors crossed the fine line between clever and stupid. He demonstrated poor judgment in producing videos in an official capacity that could easily be taken out of context, as they have been.
In short, the one word that I wish I had used in the op-ed that should be understandable to all readers, military and civilian, is “professionalism.” In other words, do well, get results, but do it in the right way.
We know that business used to be run according to a very different set of rules a generation ago, as the hit television series Mad Men reminds us. So too in the military. Behavior that once was taken for granted simply isn’t acceptable any longer. The Navy shouldn’t make exceptions for those who forget who they are, and what they represent.