A good officer or petty officer and a true leader will leave nothing undone to help and support his men when they need help; to lead when they need to be led, to punish when that, as a last resort, is necessary. That is where “Paternalism” comes into the picture. Authoity and taking care of your people. That combination is essential.
Leadership and Authority by Vice Admiral L. Hewlett Thebaud, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
The Command Investigation into the leadership oversight and responsibilities for production and broadcast of videos aboard the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) from about 2006 through 2007 is an incredible read (PDF). The investigation was conducted by RADM Gerald R. Beaman, USN, whose biography be found here. We note from the outset that RADM Gerald Beaman is above board, and I highlight his experience as a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from 1981-1984 among other aspects of his experience that made him ideal for this investigation.
The report runs for 65 PDF pages and serves as an important document for understanding Command at Sea, command climate on a ship, and how a bad culture of command can contribute to the deterioration of the authority of command at sea. If for any reason you don’t want to read the entire document, I suggest at minimum reading the 27 opinions that run from PDF page 38 through PDF page 49.
The first 10 opinions are specific to the conduct of Captain OP Honors, and are quoted below.
- “The XO Movie Night” videos became almost “cult like” for the majority of Sailors aboard ENTERPRISE. The passageways were empty at 2000 on Saturday nights underway and the mess decks, wardrooms and berthing compartments were filled standing-room only with personnel watching the “XO Movie Night” video.
- With the average crew m.ember aged 20 years old, CAPT Honors was confronted with a generation of young adults who grew-up watching television shows such as Saturday Night Live, South Park, The Simpsons, and Family Guy. Because these shows routinely use sophomoric humor to entertain their audience, CAPT Honors consciously chose to use that same type of humor and entertainment to reach his targeted 20-year-old audience aboard ENTERPRISE. To the extent that CAPT Honors sought through “XO Movie Night” videos to reach a particular demographic in his effort to teach and inform the crew, his methods appear to have been successful, as evidenced, for example, by the crew’s good behavior ashore in foreign ports and the avoidance of imposing water restrictions known as “water hours.”
- During CAPT Honors’ tour as Executive Officer, the ENTERPRISE crew performed at a high level and enjoyed much success, as evidenced by the numerous unit awards received and the favorable comments of Flag Officers, senior officers and enlisted leadership. Many attributed this success and the excellent material condition of the ship to CAPT Honors’ engagement with the ship’s crew.
- CAPT Honors has good intentions in his creation of the “XO Movie Night” videos and certainly never intended for the videos to disgrace the Navy such as ultimately happened. I believe that the “XO Movie Night” video phenomenon slowly, but steadily over time, developed a mindset in CAPT Honors that caused him to elevate the hilarity or shock level from week-to-week. As a result of this mindset, and the lack of direct oversight from his superiors, CAPT Honors enabled the downward spiral in classless, tasteless humor and conduct that culminated in the production and broadcast of his very last XO video – a compilation of the most offensive XO videos that contained repeated profanity, anti-gay slurs, simulated masturbation, and sexual innuendos.
- During ENTERPRISE’s 2007 work-ups and deployment, “XO Movie Night” videos continued with the same purpose as the 2006 videos, which was to provide a message to the crew through the use of humor and entertainment. From viewing the XO videos, it is apparent that the sophomoric humor not only continued on the 2007 deployment but degenerated to an “all time low” with CAPT Honors’ final video as Executive Officer. The humor and tone gradually became more lewd and disrespectful of time-honored Navy customs and standards, culminating with CAPT Honors’ repeated use of the word “f*ck,” use of anti-gay slurs, and display of simulated masturbation scenes that went beyond sophomoric humor. THe fact that CAPT Honors and the Public Affairs/Media Department personnel proceeded with the broadcast of these last few videos during the end of his tenure as Executive Officer is disturbing enough. The greater concern is the fact that the majority of the crew and embarked personnel witnessed the videos and never registered and objection or complaint. This is the most disturbing aspect of this investigation – that an atmosphere, environment, or “culture” tolerating such conduct and behavior was allowed to develop, grow and perpetuate over the course of two sets of work-ups and two major deployments. I believe the ENTERPRISE crew was gradually de-sensitized and conditioned to accept a low standard of conduct and behavior by the second most senior officer of the ship’s company to where it became the new acceptable norm. The crew could not be held accountable for a higher standard of conduct than the Executive Officer himself demonstrated.
- CAPT Honors believes that he adhered to an acceptable standard by measuring the tone and content of his XO videos against the tone of “significantly more offensive R-rated… professionally-produced feature films” that were sometimes broadcast on ENTERPRISE SITE-TV immediately after his XP videos. CAPT Honors equates the tone and content of his XO videos with “PG-13 adult-level humor,” and he believes such content meets the Navy’s standard.
- CAPT Honors is wrong. The U.S. Navy sets a higher standard of conduct and behavior for our officers and enlisted personnel. These standards trace back over 200 years, and are firmly grounded in regulations, custom and traditions. They form the bedrock of our Service and guided everything we do. Conduct that may be acceptable to watch as entertainment when performed by actors and comedians is not the standard of conduct for Sailors while serving in an official capacity. The difference between CAPT Honors’ XO videos and the professionally-produced feature films that contain offensive content is that U.S. Navy service members do not appear in the offensive scenes of Hollywood films. CAPT Honors fails to understand this difference. The fact that over the course of two sets of work-ups and one and a half deployments, he was only “counseled a few times” by his commanding officers served to convince him he was not out of line. Unfortunately for this highly decorated combat veteran, his logic and frame of reference were flawed from the beginning and worsened over time.
- CAPT Honors appearance in, production of, and approval of these videos demeaned himself and, more importantly, the position of the Executive Officer. Although the ship’s performance does not appear to have suffered, his conduct was derelict and unbecoming of an officer.
- By sponsoring and encouraging the inappropriate content in the videos, and enlisting the help of Public Affairs Officer and members of the Media Department, CAPT Honors fostered a work environment for those same individuals where sophomoric humor became the acceptable norm for the production of the videos.
- Sailors not only expect, but deserve their Commanding Officer and Executive Officer to exhibit exemplary conduct and set the standard for virtue, honor, courtesy and tact. As Executive Officer, CAPT Honors placed himself in a position unbecoming his rank and position by appearing as one of the primary “actors” and, in most cases, the central character in the XO videos containing offensive content. He set a poor example for his subordinate officers, crew and embarked personnel. Furthermore, he violated the special trust and confidence placed in him by his Commanding Officers and embarked Strike Group Commanders. In spite of his best intentions, his use in the videos of repeated profanity, anti-gay slurs, simulated masturbation, comments on prostitution, his making fun of department heads in a demeaning way, and repeated use of sexual innuendos to deliver his message to the crew in what he considered an entertaining way was inappropriate and inexcusable.
Below are a few of my thoughts based on other aspects of the report.
1) Perhaps Congress needs to order a study regarding short term memory loss of men over a certain age and nuclear powered aircraft carriers, because there is a surprising amount of short term memory loss regarding the conversations among those of rank at o-6 and above. This issue jumps out when reading the report. I do not believe it has anything to do with nuclear power, and would suggest that perhaps the reasons for selective memory is an aspect of “culture” issues of the Navy being ignored.
2) The findings suggest Flag Officers were largely unaware of the content of the videos. The findings also suggest Commanding Officers were also largely unaware of the content of the videos. The Command JAGs were actually in the videos. Public Affairs was involved in the production of the videos. Several officers and senior enlisted leaders were involved in the videos. The complaints by the Command Chaplain was ignored by the XO, and the Command Chaplain never raised the issue with the Captain or any other senior officer. The videos eventually included an implied threat to those who objected to the content of the videos in the opening remarks. All in all, the lack of official complaints regarding the content of XO Movie Night being objectionable is understandable.
There is an important Navy leadership discussion regarding consent by silence just begging for a discussion, but until that discussion comes from someone inside the Navy, an outsider like me simply highlighting all the examples of existence won’t make a difference.
3) The second recommendation is noteworthy:
It is disturbing to note the continuing remnants of a pervasive culture in Naval Aviation that mistakenly accepts that a certain, extreme level of coarse humor is acceptable and necessary to develop young aviators into effective warriors and community leaders. Over the past two decades, Naval Aviation has been blemished by such behavior. Sincere, focused efforts to correct this stain on the aviation community have not solved the problem. Commander, Naval Air Force Pacific and Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic are currently leading an effort to address these systemic issues within the naval aviation culture. As part of their ongoing effort, I recommend they include a command climate survey that specifically addresses the symptoms identified by this investigation to ensure that a similar “sub-culture” is not manifesting itself within the aviation community and aboard other carriers.
4) A precedent is being set by ignoring the person who leaked the video.
5) This investigation raises a number of questions regarding the promotion process and how the Navy looks at FITREPs for promotion. The number of officers and enlisted personnel involved who were promoted suggests a systemic issue might exist, and unless I missed it, I did not see that issue raised in this report.
I have read a number of opinions, mostly on political websites, that attempt to suggest the Navy investigation somehow got this wrong. I would suggest that anyone defending Captain Honors at this point has not read the report. I believe this issue is about Leadership and Authority in the Navy, and anyone who would like to seek further understanding of what that means, I encourage you to read Leadership and Authority (PDF) by Vice Admiral L. Hewlett Thebaud, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
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- Aboard the Charles de Gaulle: Sea Power and la République
- On Midrats 22 November 2015 – Episode 307: Our Own Private Petard – Procurement & Strategy with Robert Farley
- Leveraging our military relationships on the homefront
- Bring your voice once more unto the breach