Thursday, January 6, 2011
The worst 18 months of my life so far came to an end in September 1994. The movers had come, packed us out and gone. The car was loaded with everything needed for a cross-country drive. My firstborn was battened down in his safety seat, pacifier planted in mouth, and blissfully I watched Newport News, VA, and the USS Enterprise disappear in the rearview mirror.
I spent those 18 months as a reporter at the local newspaper, and as an Enterprise wife. My husband was a nuke SWO (shorthand for surface warfare officer, qualified to run a nuclear reactor) in the U.S. Navy and the ship at the time was at the Newport News Naval Shipyard undergoing nuclear refueling. Refueling is a tense time to be on a nuke-powered ship, and being a nuke means you’re in a Navy specialty known for being the most uptight of them all. Suffice it to say, my laid-back, physics-loving California guy did what’s called “the five and jive”; he paid the government back for his pricey Academy education with five years of service and got the hell out.
The Enterprise is in the news this week as a result of some very boneheaded moves by the ship’s now-ex commanding officer, Capt. Owen Honors, an Academy grad, Naval War College grad, Test Pilot School grad, Aviation Nuclear Officer training grad… whew, that’s a lot of gradding.
The U.S. government spent multiple millions of dollars training Honors so he could become commander of one of the preeminent ships in the fleet and shoot morale-boosting videos in which he wears a robe, wields a cigar, “happens” upon same-gender subordinates in mock sexual situations in the shower and throws around pejoratives like “fag” and “gay boy.”
My favorite part: The Navy knew about the videos for three years. Honors received a letter of reprimand for them, but it didn’t stop the Navy from promoting him last May. What has brought the Navy embarrassment – and Honors’ career to a halt – is that despite the fact multiple sailors have complained about the videos for years (“gutlessly,” Honors says in one video) someone finally took them public and sent them to the media.
THE U.S. GOVERNMENT SPENT MULTIPLE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS TRAINING HONORS.
The Academy message boards are hot with discussion about Honors. One former Naval officer says, “Funny videos? Yes, in a Jackass sort of way. Appropriate videos for an XO of a major combatant in the 21st century Navy? I really don’t think so, even during combat operations.” I also took an informal survey of my husband’s former colleagues, and not everyone agrees the videos were a mistake. One pilot pal who hadn’t served under Honors says “more than one fellow airdale has said ‘those videos are what got the whole crew through our last cruise.’”
Maybe the most interesting perspective of all, though, came from 28-year-old Jason Knight, a former Navy petty officer and graduate of the Defense Language Institute. Knight lives on the Monterey Peninsula and in December he and two other former service members discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” filed suit in federal court, asking for reinstatement.
While President Barack Obama signed the repeal of DADT in December, service members separated for being gay still have to wait for military leaders to complete implementation plans. Of the 14,000 men and women forced out of the service since 1993 for being gay, 10,000 were language specialists like Knight, who achieved fluency in Hebrew from the DLI.
Why, I asked Knight, does he want to go back to a service that didn’t want him, a service where guys who throw about the word “fag” can command a ship of 6,000? His discharge papers show he’s eligible for reinstatement, but why bother?
“I want to serve,” Knight says. He adds that for a time, he was part of the Navy Ceremonial Guard, the primary mission of which is to represent the service in Presidential, Joint Armed Forces, Navy, and public ceremonies in and around the nation’s capital. He performed the task of helping bury the military’s dead. “I really want to be a language instructor and pursue a career as an officer,” Knight says. “It’s not that the military is bad, there’s just bad policy. It goes against the core values we’re taught to uphold when you have to lie and evade and mislead those around us about who we are.”
AS for Honors and his now infamous videos, he says “it’s just in bad taste. I think COs and commanders do a lot of things to lighten the load, but they really missed the mark on this one.”
I’m not worried for Honors and his career. He can retire with 20-plus years and get a cush job with a defense contractor. It’s likely the recruiters are already calling him.
Hopefully he’s learned that tossing around the “f” word isn’t funny. He has no future as a stand-up comedian either – his timing and deliver was way off.
MARY DUAN is editor of the Weekly. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org