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USS Enterprise returns from six-month deployment

The USS Enterprise returned to the U.S. on Friday far removed from the controversy that marked its deployment, when its captain was fired days before the aircraft carrier's scheduled departure for producing a series of raunchy videos.

A Navy investigation found Capt. Owen Honors produced at least 25 videos with inappropriate scenes, including anti-gay slurs, sailors of both genders shown in shower scenes and vulgar language. Other videos made references to prostitution in foreign ports, eating excrement and drinking urine, and simulated rectal exams.

While Honors has spent the past six months trying to salvage his career, his former crew supported military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Enterprise was also called upon to combat piracy in the Arabian Sea, where a yacht was hijacked by pirates in February. All four Americans on board were killed.

The pirates — as well as the bodies of the Americans — were held on board the Enterprise until they could be brought to the U.S. Eleven men have already pleaded guilty in that case in federal court in Norfolk, and three others face numerous charges that could result in the death penalty.

"The crew of the Enterprise has been closely following those trials. We care that those people are brought to justice. We were very proud to carry the remains of the four Americans on board here for a short period of time before they were repatriated back to this country," said Rear Adm. Terry Kraft, Enterprise Strike Group commander.

The Enterprise's involvement in a high-profile piracy case so soon after deploying was a welcome distraction from the nationwide attention that surrounded Honors' dismissal.

The ship's new commanding officer — Capt. Dee Mewbourne — had a little more than a week to prepare for the deployment. He also had to win the respect of his new crew — many of whom were upset Honors was fired. The videos Honors made while he was the ship's executive officer were intended to be humorous skits that taught shipboard lessons and were wildly popular among crew members. Maintaining morale is typically part of the second-in-command's job. Honors made the videos years earlier, but the Navy didn't discipline him until after they were leaked to media outlets and he had already been promoted to commanding officer.

Joe McMullin, a yeoman who works in the ship's safety department, said morale was particularly low when the ship got under way following Honors' dismissal.

"The old commanding officer got along well with the crew, and the new commanding officer came in and he had to be extra professional to make up for the old commanding officer. He was more strict than most would like," he said.

For his part, Mewbourne said taking command of a ship on such short notice was one of the greatest honors of his life and that he was proud of the way the crew handled his arrival and their rigorous schedule at sea.

"They were very gracious and accepting," he said. "What they did in overcoming those challenges, they did so with more character and professionalism and grit than I've ever seen, so America should be very proud of this crew."

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Online: Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis

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