The Navy permanently removed Capt. Owen Honors as commander of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise today for what an admiral called an "exceptional lack of judgment" in making controversial videos when he served as the carrier's executive officer four years ago.
The announcement that Honors was being removed from command was made by Admiral John C. Harvey Jr., Commander of Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia.
Harvey said Honors' "profound lack of good judgment and professionalism while previously serving as executive officer on Enterprise calls into question his character and completely undermines his credibility to continue to serve effectively in command." The admiral said naval officers are "held to a higher standard" and "our leaders must be above reproach and our Sailors deserve nothing less."
He said Honors is being replaced because of "the inappropriate actions demonstrated in the videos."
Honors is being replaced as the carrier's commander by Capt. Dee Mewbourne, who most recently commanded the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mewbourne will command the ship when it sails for a deployment to the Middle East in two weeks.
The loss of confidence in Honor's ability to lead came about after raunchy videos he produced as an Enterprise officer in 2007 were leaked to a Virginia newspaper.
Honors is not expected to be kicked out of the Navy, but losing command of the carrier will surely end his career advancement. For now, Honors has been reassigned to administrative duties at the Naval base at Norfolk.
Harvey said the investigation into the production of Honors' videos will continue and "look at all aspects of the production of the videos, to include the actions of other senior officers who knew of the videos and the actions they took in response."
In the videos, Honors appears to acknowledge that his superiors would consider the videos objectionable. The captain opened two videos released today by looking directly into the camera and saying, "As usual, the captain and the admiral, they don't know anything at all about the content of the video and the movie this evening and they should absolutely not be held accountable in any judicial setting."
Before the series of raunchy videos he produced years ago leaked to a Virginia newspaper and made him famous, or more accurately infamous, Honors was known within the ranks as a popular officer and a decorated Top Gun aviator.
"He's a fantastic guy. He is an icon in the F-14 community, known for his professionalism in the airplane and his joie de vivre out of the airplane," said Ward Carroll, who served with the captain in an F-14 training squadron nearly two decades ago, and is now the editor of Military.com. Despite his endorsement of Honors, Carroll made it clear he believed the videos went too far.
"When you look at the video, there is no doubt he was way over the line," Carroll said in an interview with ABC News.
The videos, produced in 2006-2007 when Honors was the No. 2 officer aboard the Enterprise, show him introducing and starring in often lewd skits about life onboard the mammoth ship. They were broadcast on closed-circuit television shipwide almost weekly in an attempt to raise morale during long and stressful deployments at sea. The videos appear to have been tolerated by the ship's commanding officer at the time.
In a video obtained by the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, Owens is seen griping about individuals who complained about the offensive content in the skits. The paper also reported that official complaints to leaders at the time were brushed aside. A new admiral who took over command of the Enterprise Strike Group in February 2007 had their production halted.
Supporters Say Rauncy Videos Show Care for Rank and FileThough critics have vilified Honors for his derogatory references to gay men and women, objectification of women and crude humor, the captain's supporters said the videos' attempts at humor show how much he cared for the rank and file. On Facebook, sailors who have served under Honors' command have almost uniformly defended his character in postings on the USS Enterprise's page.
"We all looked forward to those videos from Honors while under way," wrote one sailor.
"I too was on that deployment. Capt. Honors brought up our morale and provided well-needed and appreciated comic relief. We were under way for long durations, supporting two theaters of war simultaneously. He brought many smiles to a worn out and tired crew. I can easily say that all of the crew, ship's company and air wing embarked, appreciated the videos," wrote another.
That dedication from his sailors doesn't surprise those who know him.
"Those who served under him love him" Carroll said.
Owen P. Honors Jr. was born 49 years ago in Syracuse, N.Y. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated in 1983 with a bachelor of science in aerospace engineering. Two years later, in 1985, he was designated a naval aviator.
He went on to fly F-14 fighter jets and attended Top Gun, formally known as the U.S. Naval Fighter Weapons School. Honors was selected to attend Test Pilot School, from which he graduated in 1990.
Early on, however, Honors experienced firsthand how dangerous being a test pilot could be.
A Navy/Mcdonnell Douglas T-45A test plane that Honors was attempting to land June 4, 1992, veered immediately to the left after touchdown and ran off the concrete runway. According to an Aviation Week and Space Technology article at the time, he couldn't avoid hitting a truck, and two men parked nearby were ejected before the plane hit an old building. The plane's right wing tip, nose gear and part of the landing gear were shorn off, but according to the article, Honors escaped safely.
Honors' official bio also ticked off a significant list of accomplishments in the air; He logged more than 3,400 flight hours in 31 types of planes; made more than 700 landings on 15 different carriers; and took part in 85 combat missions in three conflict zones. Honors has received the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and other prestigious recognitions of service.
He earned a master's degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College before assuming a string of posts. He attended aviation nuclear officer training and commanded the USS Mount Whitney, which put him on the path toward his current command of the USS Enterprise, where he was one of 11 people to command an aircraft carrier in the United States Navy.
A 2002 profile of Honors in the Post-Standard, his hometown newspaper, when he held the rank of commander and led an F-14 flight squadron aboard the USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier, painted a picture of an officer more willing to talk about his fellow sailors than himself.
"Flying is fantastic and always makes me happy," Honors told the paper. "My greatest satisfaction, however, comes from rewarding and recognizing the people in my command. These young kids are true American heroes."
It is perhaps that dedication to the men and women who serve under him that led Owens to try to reach out to them in the videos that have now generated so much controversy.
"His intent was to compete with the MTV 2's and the X-Games generation. As the executive officer of the carrier, he is charged with getting his message through to 18- and 19-year-old sailors. So I think his idea was that he would take this prosaic message -- don't take long showers, don't waste water on the ship, don't drink and drive, don't underage drink if we're on liberty, comport yourself as an American ambassador -- all of those messages that the sailors have heard a number of times. He thought OK, I will deliver the same message with a velocity and an energy that will resonate with a younger audience," Carroll said.
ABC News' Martha Raddatz, Richard Coolidge and Nick Tucker contributed to this report.