Last week, the Navy permanently relieved aircraft carrier commanding officer Owen Honors of all duties, two weeks before his ship and crew heads out to support combat mission support troops in Afghanistan.
According to Adm. John Harvey Jr., he and other Navy leaders lost confidence in Captain Honor's judgment, character, professionalism and credibility after viewing raunchy comedy videos Honors produced, starred in and repeatedly showed in 2006 and 2007.
If you question "why the time lag?," you hit the nail on the head. Although on subsequent videos Honors himself talks about multiple complaints about the videos sent "gutlessly" through other channels, he tells "bleeding hearts" they likely are to be offended again as he launches yet another lewd video. In other words, tough for those who didn't like the weekly aired productions of simulated feces eating and rectal exams, anti-gay slurs and an apparent sex tryst between an officer and a donkey in his stateroom.
According to Navy sources, unidentified crew members raised concerns about the videos but were brushed off and Navy higher-ups who knew about the videos put a stop to those with inappropriate content. Still without any obvious sign of a reprimand, the Navy promoted Captain Owen Honors from second in command to commander.
When the media learned of videos, the Navy initially downplayed them as "humorous skits" intending to focus the crew's attention on specific issues such as water conservation, ship cleanliness and traffic safety.
Two days after TV stations repeatedly showed the videos, the Navy relieved Honors from his command. No Pentagon or Navy leaders could explain why, if Honors' conduct merited being reassigned to administrative shore duties, he was promoted after the videos aired.
Although a Pentagon spokesman said, "There are always going to be people who do things they shouldn't. ... They will be held accountable," the Navy apparently fired Honors not for making and starring in lewd videos but for embarrassing the Navy.
Meanwhile, 18,000 joined the Support Captain Owen Honors Facebook page. Many of these, sailors who served with Honors, defended their former officer, saying he provided a much-needed morale boost and "knew when to have fun." They resent seeing a man they viewed as a good guy shot down for political correctness.
Like other hard-to-believe, true-life stories, this one has outsiders asking, "What were they thinking?"
What led Navy managers and leaders to turn a blind eye to gross videos aired weekly to 6,000 sailors and Marines? Wasn't there one leader at the time who could have said "poor judgment ... off the air"?
What led chief executive officer Honors, a 1983 alumnus of the U.S. Naval Academy and a Top Gun pilot, to consider frat-boy videos the best way to raise morale and to later aggressively mock those who challenged their crudeness?
If the Navy leadership had tackled the problem earlier, when they owned it and before it made national media news, they could have saved this man's career. Said an Owens supporter, "sure, issue a letter of reprimand, but relieving him of his command is as inappropriate as the videos."
Meanwhile, this polarized situation seems to lack a "lessons learned" for many involved. Despite the 1991 Tailhook scandal in which 120 Navy and Marine officers and aviators sexually assaulted more than 80 female officers at a Las Vegas conference, many Honors supporters seem to want to return to a world in which boorish behavior continues as "not a big deal."
Lessons learned? If others tell you your behavior crosses the line into stupid, stop. And if you see a problem, fix it -- when you still own it and before the eyes of others force you to take extreme measures.
w Lynne Curry is a management trainer, consultant and president of Alaska's The Growth Company Inc. in Anchorage. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org