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Story By Corinne Reilly from the The Virginian-Pilot
In one scene, two female Navy sailors stand in a shower stall aboard the aircraft carrier, pretending to wash each other. They joke about how they should get six minutes under the water instead of the mandated three.
In other skits, sailors parade in drag, use anti-gay slurs, and simulate masturbation and a rectal exam. Another scene implies that an officer is having sex in his stateroom with a donkey.
They’re all part of a series of short movies produced aboard the Norfolk-based aircraft carrier Enterprise in 2006 and 2007 and broadcast to its nearly 6,000 sailors and Marines. The man who masterminded and starred in them is Capt. Owen Honors – now the commander of the carrier, which is weeks away from deploying.
The videos, obtained by The Virginian-Pilot this week, were shot and edited with government equipment, many of them while the Enterprise was deployed supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At the time, Honors was the carrier’s executive officer, or XO, the commanding officer’s deputy. He took command of the ship in May.
In the videos, Honors indicates that he’s trying to entertain the crew. They were shown roughly once a week on closed-circuit shipwide television, according to a handful of sailors who were assigned to the Enterprise at the time. The sailors requested anonymity for fear of retribution.
One of them said he mailed a complaint about the videos to the Navy Inspector General this week. Others said crew members who raised concerns aboard the ship in 2006 and 2007 were brushed off.
The videos were part of what Honors, 49, called “XO Movie Night.”
“They were the XO’s project,” said one former Enterprise sailor, a ship video-grapher who on one occasion was asked to help in the filming. “He was the one coming up with scripts and the jokes. He was the one planning it.”
The Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, is set to deploy overseas this month. The videos raise serious questions about Honors’ judgment, especially while the carrier is under way, said another sailor, an officer aboard the Enterprise who was also there when the videos were being shown.
“When the ship pulls away from that pier, he’s it,” the officer said. “To me, that’s scary.”
It’s unclear why the videos recently resurfaced, although one sailor who spoke to the newspaper said they remain on at least one shipboard computer.
Honors is a native of Syracuse, N.Y., and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983. He went on to fly the F-14 Tomcat and work as a test pilot before serving as XO on the Enterprise from July 2005 to September 2007.
Honors did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did the Enterprise’s then-commanding officer, Larry Rice, who was later promoted to the rank of the rear admiral and now works at the Norfolk-based U.S. Joint Forces Command.
Rear Adm. Raymond Spicer and Vice Adm. Daniel Holloway, who commanded the Enterprise carrier strike group during Honors’ time as XO, could not be reached.
The Navy released a written statement late Friday in response to The Pilot’s inquiries.
“The videos created onboard USS Enterprise in 2006-2007 were not created with the intent to offend anyone,” the statement said. “The videos were intended to be humorous skits focusing the crew’s attention on specific issues such as port visits, traffic safety, water conservation, ship cleanliness, etc.”
The statement said that when leaders with the carrier strike group became aware of the inappropriate content in early 2007, production of the videos ended.
At least one video that includes anti-gay remarks and officers pretending to masturbate was made after July of that year, according to Honors’ comments in it.
The Navy said it plans to launch an investigation.
At the beginning of the videos, Honors jokes that his bosses shouldn’t be held responsible for them. “As usual, I want to say that the captain and the admiral – they don’t know anything at all about the content of this video or the movie this evening, and they should absolutely not be held accountable in any judicial setting,” he says.
The sailors who spoke to the newspaper said it’s hard to believe that Honors’ superiors on board weren’t aware of the videos as soon as he began showing them in 2006, given that they were routinely broadcast for the entire crew.
“People talked about them,” the former ship videographer said. “People looked forward to them – at least the people who thought they were funny.”
A female sailor who was assigned to the Enterprise at the time said she and a number of other women on board were offended by the videos. She said some crew members complained about them, and in fact, Honors acknowledged it on camera. In one movie, he says, “Over the years I’ve gotten several complaints about inappropriate materials in these videos, never to me personally but, gutlessly, through other channels.”
He adds, “This evening, all of you bleeding hearts… why don’t just go ahead and hug yourself for the next 20 minutes or so, because there’s a really good chance you’re gonna be offended.”
Then Honors tells his viewers to get ready for something that always pleases: “the F-bomb.” The video goes on to show a string of clips edited together in which he uses the expletive.
The next portion is a series of clips displaying Honors and other sailors, including officers, pretending to masturbate. It’s set to a song called “Spank.”
After that, the video returns to Honors. “Finally, let’s get to my favorite topic – something foreign to the gay kid over there: chicks in the shower,” he says.
He gestures to the person next to him – who, through a trick of video, is Honors wearing the blue coveralls of a Navy surface warfare officer, or SWO. SWOs include the officers who crew the ship; they don’t include fighter pilots and other aviators. Repeatedly in the videos, Honors, a former Top Gun pilot, draws distinctions between aviators and SWOs and refers to SWOs as “fags.”
The video then shows two female sailors pretending to shower together and two male sailors pretending to shower together. While the shots imply nudity, they don’t show any; the men are filmed from the waist up and the women from their shoulders.
In one instance, the women are in the shower stall with a cardboard cutout of Honors.
The sailors who spoke to The Pilot estimated that Honors made a few dozen videos for XO Movie Night. They said not all of them contained sexual jokes and anti-gay remarks.
The videos were shot and edited using equipment from the ship’s public affairs office, which typically spends deployments documenting and publicizing the good work of sailors.
Of note is the quality of the XO Movie Night videos and the time that Honors appears to have devoted to them, even as the Enterprise was simultaneously supporting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and its air wing was dropping record numbers of bombs. The videos have plots, scripts, props and recurring characters.
In several instances, Honors plays more than one character in the same scene. To achieve this, it appears he recorded different takes in which he played the different roles, and then superimposed the takes over each other, allowing himself to appear on screen as two or three people at once.
“Some of it was pretty complicated stuff,” the former ship videographer said.
The videographer said that while he knew the movies weren’t appropriate, in some ways he can understand how they happened.
“In his defense, I’ll say that sometimes, when you’ve been out to sea for a while, cut off from everything, you start to think things that you would never normally do are actually a good idea,” he said. “You do stupid stuff to stay sane.”
He added that electronic communication with the rest of the world while at sea can be difficult; it was nearly impossible to e-mail or upload videos from the carrier in 2006 and 2007.
“He probably figured they’d never get off the ship.”
Pilot news researchers Jakon Hays and Maureen Watts contributed to this report.