Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Was Honors Honorable?

From Guest Poster, Keith Taylor....

Perfect isn't good enough


Keith Taylor

Captain Owen Honors, the recently fired executive officer and presumptive next captain of the USS Enterprise was rated by two of his former commanding officers as being perfect. From his fitness reports we would assume if there had been a category "better than perfect," he'd have been marked up to that status. Now, with the help of both, he's disgraced and out the door.

All he did was what sailors of all ranks have done when their ship slipped over the horizon and out of sight of land. He entertained his shipmates with bawdy jokes crossing every line of propriety.

But these weren't just distasteful jokes on the mess decks or the wardroom. They were in a skit taped and broadcast to the crew on a weekly basis. Now we are told that at least four senior officers, all now admirals, knew of it and had the duty to stop anything untoward. Two were his skippers who both gave him perfect marks in his fitness reports.

Captain Honors claims they not only knew of his skits, they tacitly approved of them.

As a an old sailor and officer who fancied himself quite a wit I learned a lot as I worked his way up through the ranks (stopping far short of captain). I always knew which of my superiors liked my jokes and which were offended by them. You can bet when I was a young white hat if I said something that a chief didn't like, I'd be very skittish about telling the same joke to my the division officer.

And so went, on up the ladder. There's just something about hearing, "Knock it off smart ass" that discourages a wannabe comedian.

For all its whiz bang cyber age electronics and gee whiz gadgetry the Navy is still run by people, and while most know their place in the hierarchy, everybody has to grope his way though the ephemeral and unofficial rules of propriety.

But somehow every sailor from the latest boot camp graduate to Admiral Mullen at the top knows when he has crossed the line. Surely the XO of the USS Enterprise would not have persisted in his "XO Movie Night Skit" if Captains (now rear admirals) Larry Rice and Ron Horton plus Rear Admiral Raymond Spicer, and Vice Admiral Daniel Holloway had said, "Uh. Owen. That's over the line for an executive officer."

He could have got the idea if one of them had merely scowled at him. I was never the executive officer of a huge fighting ship, but I got to know some. Every one had the ability to adjust to the withering scowl of a senior officer.

But for the most part no scowls or "tut tuts" were forthcoming, not even from those who might have been personally offended, the women and gays who were often the subject of the jokes in the skits.

As I understand it, "something was said about it" at time and the skits stopped. The entire thing simply died about four or five years ago. Yet we now have a new brouhaha and a valuable officer is gone -- out the door by request.

Now from outside the system, Captain Honors is naming names while maintaining his presumption of innocence. I'd say he certainly had a right to presume no harm was being done.

Try as I might, the worst thing I could see about it is that the skits were simply not very funny. I know about those things. Some years ago I tried standup comedy. Believe me a night facing a quiet audience is a night nobody wants to face. Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, who is very funny if you agree with his politics, agrees. He panned hell out of the tapes.

There's an old saying "you can't unring a bell." Perhaps not, but wouldn't it be better to say we can surely try to correct an overreaction. And ought it not be done by the people who overreacted, not a judge?

In 1998 the Navy learned that the hard way. Despite the wacko "Don't ask/don't tell" law, Senior Chief Timothy McVeigh (not the bomber) was being booted from the Navy for being gay. He fought back and a federal judge reversed the entire thing. McVeigh was awarded $90 thousand, promoted and retired as a master chief, and everybody from his commanding officer up to the commander in chief looked silly.

Who knows if there is a cause here for a lawsuit? But the Navy ought to beware. Standing by your guns can be expensive, especially when you have no ammunition in the first place.

And looking silly is unbecoming to those wearing a uniform.

//Keith Taylor is long retired from the Navy and is a freelance writer and author living in Chula Vista. He can be reached at krtaylorxyz@aol.com //


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