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Navy Revamps Ethics Training in Wake of Submarine Shower Scandal

The USS Wyoming transits the Saint Marys River after departing Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay on Jan. 18, 2012. James Kimber/Navy
The USS Wyoming transits the Saint Marys River after departing Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay on Jan. 18, 2012. James Kimber/Navy

The scene in the video appears to be ripped from recent headlines. An off-duty sailor's cell phone pings, and he gawks at a video showing a female sailor illicitly filmed in the shower.

"Who sent it?" another sailor demands.

The first sailor shrugs.

"It doesn't matter; it's about to go viral."

In fact, this film clip from the Navy's new "Chart the Course" ethics program wasn't scripted in reference to the scandal in which male enlisted sailors filmed female sailors showering aboard the submarine USS Wyoming during a 2013-2014 deployment. The similarity is purely coincidental, said Cmdr. Tracy Less, the training lead for the new program.

But it does illustrate the Navy's effort to make the training package, centered on small-group discussions, relevant to the young sailors of today and the ethical dilemmas they encounter. The ethics program was announced Wednesday in a Navy administrative message; the mandatory two-hour training is expected to roll out fleet-wide at the beginning of next year.

"We're really looking at continuing the drumbeat with sexual assault prevention but really opening the aperture," Less said.

In the vignette described above, the sailor who received the shower video is confronted by his peers and reminded that the female sailor in the video is "one of us." He ultimately deletes it.

"With videos and peer-led discussions in Chart the Course, Sailors are going to see difficult moments, tough decision points, and learn what to do," Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, director of the 21st Century Sailor Office, said in a statement. "This training is an opportunity to focus on making the right choices, understanding the consequences, and how it impacts readiness. Leaders at all levels will discuss a range of behaviors and we hope they learn what it means to step up, and step in."

Other vignettes intended to drive group discussion depict a petty officer being confronted by his peers about how his binge drinking is affecting his performance and their safety; a female junior officer who responds to sexual harassment from a male supervisor; and a male seaman recruit who reports sexual assault by his male shipmates and then faces retaliation from his female senior chief.

"We're trying to do the right relevant training at the right time at the right dosage," Less said. Although command retaliation is an emerging problem and definitions are still being drawn, she said, the Navy is consciously leading the Defense Department in discussing the issue openly.

The training also aims to go beyond outdated depictions of gender, Less said. The films revolve around four sailors, three male and one female, who live together in an apartment in a professional, platonic arrangement.

The video of a young female officer encountering sexual harassment also portrays her effectively rebuffing the advances of her superior officer, instead of being victimized. Program planners originally had a male actor portraying a senior chief who encourages hazing and retaliates against a junior sailor, but later made the senior chief a woman, Less said.

These choices run contrary to traditional depictions of female sailors, who are shown "as the soft ones and the victims and the ones you can go to talk to, but not ... who we really are," she said.

While the new program has been in development for several years, it may be especially relevant now as the Navy publicly pushes to recruit and retain more female sailors with updated maternity leave and career intermission policies.

Against the backdrop of the recent submarine scandal, the program may serve to build confidence in the atmosphere the Navy provides, deputy chief of Naval Operations Vice Adm. Bill Moran told Military.com.

"We're really appealing to and raising the level of professionalism in the force," he said. "It will suppress some of the bad behavior that's occurring, and give, I hope, some young women some confidence that we're looking out for the culture and environment that we're asking them to operate in."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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