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The Navy videos: When time is no excuse

As the Navy decides the fate of Captain Owen Honors, perhaps the most ironically named officer in the U.S. military, one factor that will surely become a key part of the debate is the length of time that has passed since the raunchy videos were made.

His defenders are sure to say the tapes were made more than three to four years ago, and that Honors, now the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the longest naval vessel in the world and its first nuclear-powered, has mended his ways. If the offending videos were so bad, they might argue (thousands of navy members viewed them at the time, after all), why are they only coming to light now?

But those arguments are unlikely to do much to keep Honors out of hot water. The simple fact is that the naval commander was already in a position of leadership when the videos were made--as executive officer, or XO, he was second in command of the ship. No matter how much time has lapsed, the videos raise serious questions about Honors' fitness to serve as the sort of leader the Navy should expect and demand.

It would be different if Honors had been a newly enlisted sailor, fresh from the fraternity house. Had the crude videos--Honors warns viewers "there's a pretty good chance you're gonna be offended tonight"--been made by a 22-year-old kid with no direct reports or direct responsibilities, they would be reprehensible but not career-torpedoing.

But in Honors' case, his life's work could indeed come to a near-term end. The 49-year-old graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Naval War College, who just took over as commanding officer of the Enterprise in May, surely earned his promotion through hard work, expertise on naval strategy and a decorated career of service in war zones. But when it comes to his record on leadership, any video that captures a high-ranking officer willfully engaging in such inappropriate behavior is sure to be damaging, whether it was filmed five days or five years ago.

Time does reform people. They grow, they mature and they change their old ways. And in light of the Shirley Sherrod fiasco, a requisite disclaimer should be made that there could be more to this story, despite Honors' starring role in the videos. But there are some actions taken by leaders that are so obviously not acts of leadership that no number of years will make them okay. Time may heal all wounds, but it does not erase all the ugly scars.

By Jena McGregor

 |  January 4, 2011; 9:56 AM ET |  Category:  Bad leadership , Military leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Comparing Capt. Honors to Col. Jessup from A Few Good Men is ludicrous. Col. Jessup explicitly disobeyed orders that resulted in the death of one of his Marines. Capt. Honors made silly videos and dropped the F-bomb.

Sure, the videos were vulgar and in poor taste, but to be fired for them?! The only reason to do that is to appease the men and women who have absolutely no idea what it's like to serve on a carrier. America's image problem does not rest on these immature videos.

Posted by: omarlatiri | January 5, 2011 4:22 PM

It is interesting to me that until the tapes went public, the Navy didn't care. Complaints were made years ago, but nothing was done. As soon as the tapes went public, Capt. Honors was relieved of command. The moral of the story is that as far as the Navy is concerned. it's o.k. to do it; just don't get caught by the news media. If you do get caught, your a** has had it. This is the same as what happened with "Tail Hook" in 1991. The same thing had been going on for years. As soon as it was made public, the s*** hit the fan.

Posted by: starling1 | January 5, 2011 3:22 PM

Yes the tough life of being in the navy in these war times rather then serving in the army or marine infantry,,compare the casualty figures,,the author seems to over look that more then a few girls on the loveboat were showering together and with the boys for the capns vid collection.of course a lot of the sailors and their sea daddys will defend what goes on,,its a lot better then picking up a rifle and spending time in afghan endlessly.

Posted by: schmidt1 | January 5, 2011 1:45 PM

Hugh, I, and many, many others, commented via the internet and said how disgusting the videos were and badly it reflected on the Navy that he had been promoted. Someone above him who protected him needs to go as well. But he is unfit for command. I am sure the gay men under his command and women sailors everywhere did not find this funny. Grow up little boys or you don't belong in the US military.

Posted by: withersb | January 5, 2011 1:19 PM

The(delayed)timing of this, correspondng with the DADT repeal is very suspicious.
To have a top-notch military officer with Captain Honor's 27 year history and achievements flushed down the drain because of one stupid error in judgment, borders on criminal injustice!
This is political correctness gone amuck!!
Captain Honor will probably accept non-judicial punishment rather than prolong the the procedures in order to sve the Navy any further embarrassment. But he could request a Court Martial prodeeding and have his accusors brought in for questioning.
A delay of 4-5 years to bring charges seems suspicious.
Cetainly Captain Honor will not be selected for promotion to Admiral. That should be punishment enough!
You don't have to ruin a good man over one error in judgment!!

Posted by: thornegp2626 | January 5, 2011 11:18 AM

The specific content of the videos is of importance insomuch as it is inappropriate content for any sort of video distributed on a military base or vessel. This is a full stop, end of conversation situation.

If Honors had done such as things as a JG it would be up to a higher ranking officer to teach him that such behavior is not in keeping with good order & discipline. If he were a very thick-headed JG, it would fall to his XO to teach him this lesson.

That Honors was promoted up without learning this lesson, could be taken to suggest that the problem is greater than just Honors' behavior. I prefer to think he was foolish enough to think he could get away with this sort of juvenile behavior as XO because he would claim he did it for morale. There is no defending it on these grounds.

The simple truth is that it was never anything but bad for morale because it harmed good order & discipline. Good morale building lifts spirits but also maintains discipline. By his own words, Honors knew full well that there would be trouble if this material was made known widely off the carrier. That means he knew it was not a good morale builder for the crew. Rather it was a device to fracture the corps of the carrier. That is never good for morale.

Lets face it he just is not command material.

Posted by: cjwilsey | January 5, 2011 2:09 AM

Leadership sometimes requires risk taking.

Leaders often motivate by making themselves look foolish to the team.

Commanders who avoid risk may not lose, but their team never wins the big ones.

Posted by: jfv123 | January 4, 2011 10:40 PM

FIRE-FRED:

I spent 20 years on that wall. As a Mustang (Commissioned Officer with significant enlisted service,) I spent a good portion of my time as an NCO and a Division Officer correcting such behavior in my subordinates. The key phrase is "disruptive of good order and discipline." The "boys will be boys" defense was absurd during Tail Hook in 1991 and it is just as absurd now.

LCDR Malmstrom USNR (ret)

Posted by: jamalmstrom | January 4, 2011 10:31 PM

What is really sad and revealing in all of this is that these tasteless and abusive and extremely infantile skits on this video, supposedly to raise morale, and what does this say about the caliber of military that such trash would lift anyone's morale.

As a veteran of the U.S. Army, I do not get all teary-eyed about military service; especially in the age of the merc. Although I knew a few in the military claiming to be in for patriotic reasons, most were in for travel, adventure, self-esteem issues, Audie Murphy syndrome, training, education benefits etc. And some I knew were just plain losers, glory boys and outright psychopaths--nothing like a good war to turn a nobody into a somebody; imagine getting paid and medals to do some killing where in civilian life it means jail.

Posted by: jcraven | January 4, 2011 8:54 PM

If it looks childish, remember that a carrier is run by a lot of people who are young. How do senior officers stay relevant to young people and make their lives aboard ship better? With silly, irreverant videos. People are upset because it is immature, but who on a ship needs morale boosing on movie night, the careerists or the no-rank, rank-and-file?

Posted by: blasmaic | January 4, 2011 5:24 PM

That a serving officer in a command position on a warship would ever, while in service, degrade himself, his command, and his ship, is simply an unspeakable dishonor. The Navy of the United States is the Navy of what was once a great power. The Navy deserves better than this. The USS Enterprise deserves better than this. The crew deserves better than this. The Marines dying, and who have died in Afghanistan deserve better than this. There is nothing else that can be said.

Posted by: rc115shepherd | January 4, 2011 2:31 PM

When I ask colleagues how they could give up life on a carrier, to a one they tell me what I suspected: It's their shipmates (especially the officers) and the difficulty of escaping the company of the completely unacceptable.
I'd love to make a carrier one of my residences...... if I got to pick the crew. Suffice it to say that Owen and his sort would not be invited.

Posted by: jbksss | January 4, 2011 2:21 PM

It is right that he be punished by being dismissed. THe tapes are dispicable and embarassing to the US military and an insult to gay service members. I hope everyone sees not why we needed to repeal DADT! The problem I have is who was covering this up? Why did it take so long to reveal them and take the appropriate action. The whistle blower should be rewarded. This is like the Catholic church bishops covernig up the sexual absuse by moving the priests around. Good Riddance to Cmdr. Honors. His honor is nothing more than his name.

Posted by: slowe111 | January 4, 2011 1:56 PM

Having this officer removed from his comand because of an obviously humor guided video is absolutly ridiculous. The video was never intended to be seen by anyone off ship. Just because one sailor decided to get some attention by shinning a public light on it does not make it offensive behavior. It was not different than some of the antics other service members participate in from time to time.

Our society has come to hold individuals to such a high standard that there is absolutly no room for any type of stress relief for fear of persicution. We have become a nation of hopeless cry babies who strive for something to blame someone for constantly.

This officer does not deserve the treatment he is receiving from the public for this act. I'm certain that the people who are critisizing this officer have all done similar things themselves, but just did not get chastised for it as he has. Lighten up America, life should not be so serious all the time.

Posted by: cbee1952 | January 4, 2011 1:35 PM

Seems to me that Honors should keep his command; and that everyone calling for his censure owes him an apology.

The man is in the military. Those videos weren't made and broadcast without orders. Obviously, if they were made and shown 3 or 4 years ago, and he's recently been promoted to Captain of the Enterprise, he did exactly what he was expected and ordered to do in creating them.

The real question is, is Captain Honors homophobic, or was he just required to act that way?

Posted by: mhoust | January 4, 2011 1:31 PM

To me, it seems much ado about nothing. So, the man is sometimes off-key, off-color and an oaf. The whole broo-ha-ha seems artificial.

Posted by: nillum | January 4, 2011 1:20 PM

There are times when I just want to scream at folks over stories like this. Mike, you never said you served on a carrier so sit down. Most of the folks maddened by this never served or served on a carrier.

By harping on this it destroys a man. This was bad judgment but not necessarily a bad man. End of story. It happened and now time to move on. You got your pound of flesh. I served on SARATOGA for 5 years straight. I saw a CO beaten down like this and it serves no purpose. Move along, there's nothing to see here.

Michael Vick gets a better write-off than this!

Posted by: jbeeler | January 4, 2011 11:57 AM

I think everyone who saw the video and did not report it as inappropriate should be hunted down, exposed and kicked off the ship as well. Remember the trials in WWII? Lets do it again. After all this is a major crime. President Clinton's behavior in the oval office and then lying about it and Rangel's crooked behavior for many years are less serious than this, aren't they? What do you think? Those who saw the video should be replaced with people who are more sensitive to Gays and such. What do you think? Then we would feel more safe. Remember " You can't Handle the Truth"?

Posted by: nychap44 | January 4, 2011 11:52 AM

Sorry, I just don't share the lib media's frothing, hyperventilating outrage.

Posted by: kbarker302 | January 4, 2011 11:38 AM

I served under him from 2005-2007 and all those videos did was raise morale a bit. life ona carrier is hell. absolute hell. a little levity from your leadership is more than welcome and those who were offended could have just not watched. he gave ample warning. and it's the navy, for heaven's sake. a little vulgarity is commonplace and shouldn't be cause for a scandal.

Posted by: Dannyboy14 | January 4, 2011 11:24 AM

To try to compare someone living on a boat that is getting warm meals, warm bunks, TV, x box. places to work out, TV shows etc to be compared to someone who is actually "on the wall" is a joke.

You seem to thing that it's hard to join the Navy and only the best are picked. Let's both face it it's not. Most people there are trying to get money for college or learn a trade. I wonder how many enlisted people get out after one tour because of BS like this. It's childish and unprofessional. Yes I was in the Navy for six years in squadrons that had good ole boys clubs like this guy was in. I'm sure he was destined to be a CO based on his graduating for the NA. These guys were cocky, arragant and were poor examples to their sailors.

And yes Ive seen the other side. I was in the Army for three years as a 31U in an Eng. Unit. Very different atmosphere. No TV and what have you. I had respect for my officers and the actually lead the unit. You would not hesitate to go into battle with them and they didn't have to resort to infantile behavior to do it.

What you should be doing is letting the Naval brass know that you are professionals and don't need someone, an xo I still can't believe it, spening a bunch of time creating somekind of frat boy show.

Posted by: bhmike17 | January 4, 2011 11:22 AM

To try to compare someone living on a boat that is getting warm meals, warm bunks, TV, x box. places to work out, TV shows etc to be compared to someone who is actually "on the wall" is a joke.

You seem to thing that it's hard to join the Navy and only the best are picked. Let's both face it it's not. Most people there are trying to get money for college or learn a trade. I wonder how many enlisted people get out after one tour because of BS like this. It's childish and unprofessional. Yes I was in the Navy for six years in squadrons that had good ole boys clubs like this guy was in. I'm sure he was destined to be a CO based on his graduating for the NA. These guys were cocky, arragant and were poor examples to their sailors.

And yes Ive seen the other side. I was in the Army for three years as a 31U in an Eng. Unit. Very different atmosphere. No TV and what have you. I had respect for my officers and the actually lead the unit. You would not hesitate to go into battle with them and they didn't have to resort to infantile behavior to do it.

What you should be doing is letting the Naval brass know that you are professionals and don't need someone, an xo I still can't believe it, spening a bunch of time creating somekind of frat boy show.

Posted by: bhmike17 | January 4, 2011 11:22 AM

The whole issue comes down to appropriate decision-making. Honors made poor decisions only 3-4 years ago as XO in making unnecessarily extreme videos for "entertainment". He now belittles those who complained for not coming to him directly, yet I and I'm sure those sailors/marines are convinced he would have retaliated against them, punishing and bullying anyone who dared criticize him. Those poor decision-making skills should keep him from commanding any ship as important as the USS Enterprise. We need good military leaders, not bullies.

Posted by: ccs53 | January 4, 2011 11:18 AM

As a former military man I was always taught to Lead By Example. I'm just curious what kind of example does this set?

Posted by: eimerhay | January 4, 2011 11:13 AM

The first reaction is that one in such a position should not even contemplate doing such things. Yes, we are all flawed, but judgment is judgment is judgment. Even in 2007, and at his age then, it shows a lack of maturity for such an important leadership position. And, since we really DO NOT CHANGE much over time, he really has not changed since 2007. I'm am sure that the Navy has better candidates to serve as Captain of that aircraft carrier.

Posted by: dozas | January 4, 2011 11:07 AM

To paraphrase Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men",
"We need them on that wall".
Will all of you who think this video was so offensive please raise your hand as a sign of commitment to leave your job and family and go and take their place. (Tick, Tick....)
I didn't think so.

Posted by: fire-fred | January 4, 2011 10:53 AM

In the first place you have never served in the Navy on board a ship for six months at a time. Everyone who has commented via the internet has said it helped morale and was not objectionable and this includes the female sailors. If you only watch the portion of the videos and not the whole video you don't realize the video has been altered to show only those things you find objectionable. They have been taken out of context and the media is having a great time slaughtering this fine officer.

Hugh Campbell
Charlotte, NC

Posted by: HughRFC | January 4, 2011 10:36 AM

Well, the Navy knew obviously knew about it for years, since he was asked to cease producing them back in 2007. To punish him now would be hypocritical. Navy leadership shouldn't be influenced by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Posted by: mwuagi | January 4, 2011 10:23 AM

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