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Navy carrier deploys without former commander

The new commander of the USS Enterprise on Thursday promised karaoke and video games to boost crew morale instead of the raunchy videos that cost one officer his command and forced another to delay his retirement.

Capt. Owen Honors, 49, lost his command of the Enterprise as the Navy launched an investigation into the videos broadcast in 2006 and 2007, which included gay slurs, sailors in suggestive shower scenes and simulated masturbation.

On Thursday, officials deferred Rear Adm. Lawrence Rice's planned Feb. 1 retirement until that probe was complete, said Rear Adm. Dennis Moynihan, a Navy spokesman. Rice had commanded Honors for part of his duty on the ship.

Capt. Dee L. Mewbourne took over the storied nuclear-powered aircraft carrier — the oldest in the nation's fleet of 11 — less than two weeks after Honors was relieved of his command for a "profound lack of good judgment and professionalism." The Enterprise is the third carrier commanded by Mewbourne in as many years.

"We're going to set our standards high and we're going to be professional in everything we do," Mewbourne said before the Enterprise's deployment to support troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Crew members lined the carrier's rail Thursday as family members bundled up in temperatures in the 20s in a parking lot to wave goodbye. As the ship's horn sounded, a tugboat nudged it away from Pier 12 of the world's largest naval base. The ship's flag was at half mast because of the killings in Arizona, which left six dead and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded.

The investigation into the lewd videos, launched on the eve of Honors' first carrier command, also is looking into whether Honors was reprimanded when the videos were shown.

Honors has not responded to several e-mails from The Associated Press. Attempts to reach him by phone have been unsuccessful, and no one answered the door several days ago when an AP reporter visited Honors' home.

Mewbourne, who also commanded the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS Abraham Lincoln, is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who also attended the Navy's Top Gun flight school and its demanding nuclear power program. He boasts an extensive flying record in 47 different aircraft, clocking 3,500 total flight hours.

Ward Carroll, the editor of Military.com who had been an aviator with Honors, said Mewbourne has a stellar record of achievement while adhering to Navy policy.

"Considering the landscape, he's a great choice," Carroll said. "This selection of Dee Mewbourne is at once a safe choice for the Navy and the right choice for the circumstances."

Mewbourne said the crew is ready to deploy despite Honors' abrupt removal. He said he talked to the crew about a week ago and that they acknowledged they didn't like the circumstances surrounding the change of command.

"No one did," he said. "But now we're focused on the future and the crew is ready."

Mewbourne also said he had talked to Honors since his demotion but did not elaborate.

Many sailors aboard the ship at the time Honors was No. 2 in command have defended him on Facebook postings and in communications with the AP. They said the offending portions of the videos represented a fraction of his weekly morale-boosting instructionals and provided comic relief during a long, grueling deployment in support of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In an e-mail to The Associated Press, machinist mate John Krzemien said "morale has definitely taken a hit" since Honors was relieved.

"They took the one captain that could rally this much support and replaced him because of civilian opinions," he wrote. "None of us think it's right."

But along Pier 12 in the hours before the Enterprise's deployment, family and crew said they had confidence in their new commander.

"They respect him just as much," said Tonya Hudson, who saw off her husband, Lt. Jason Hudson, with their three children. They had breakfast on the Enterprise, where many crew members had spent the night. "As far as I can tell, I think morale is high and they're ready to go."

Her sea bag slung over her shoulder, culinary specialist Melissa Williams said she wasn't reflecting on the past, just her first deployment.

"I'm very honored to do it," she said. "Morale is good."

The Enterprise's deployment without Honors underscored an abrupt change of fortune for the boyish-looking captain, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who became a Top Gun pilot. Honors flew 85 combat missions in three theaters, landing on 15 different carriers. He has since been reassigned to an administrative job.

The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk first reported the existence of the videos nearly two weeks ago, and posted excerpts. The Navy said the videos were intended merely as humorous skits and stopped airing immediately after other senior officers became aware of them.

No leaders in senior posts at the Pentagon and in the Navy could explain why Honors was promoted after they became aware of the videos.

The probe is looking into actions by Honors and also into who among his superiors knew of the videos and what they did about them at the time. Rice commanded the Enterprise from December 2004 to May 2007; Rear Adm. Ron Horton commanded the ship from mid-May 2007 to May 2010. Horton is still on active duty and so remains available to cooperate with the investigation.

The Enterprise led a carrier strike group that includes an air wing, four destroyers and a supply ship. A total of 6,000 sailors and Marines are part of the deployment.

___

Jelinek reported from Washington.

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