Navy Lt. Bryan D. Black, a U.S. Naval Academy faculty member, thought he was just shooting the breeze when he told a midshipman that getting on a battleship turned him on.
Such was the sentiment, at least, though the language was saltier than the Chesapeake Bay, where an inspired Black was serving as safety officer on an oceanographic cruise aboard a "yard patrol craft."
Unfortunately for Black, among the midshipmen was at least one sensitive female. He also made some other equally spicy comments about his ex-wife, of whom he apparently is no longer fond, that were overheard by, but not spoken in front of, female midshipmen.
Now he faces a special court-martial and three criminal charges.
I can't write what Black specifically said, but suffice it to say I've heard worse walking the half-block from my office to Groucho's Deli without need of smelling salts.
Not so Foxton, apparently, who complained that Black's remarks bothered her. He apologized. At that point, Black thought the matter had been put to rest, as did the first investigating officer, who recommended that Black receive a letter of reprimand and counseling.
That sounds reasonable, but these are not reasonable times. Once Foxton's female superior, Lieutenant Commander Michelle Whisenhunt, caught wind of Black's rich commentary on the seductive powers of seafaring vessels, the freefall began. Whisenhunt conducted her own investigation, interviewing only women, and now Black is charged with (1) failure to obey a lawful general order or regulation; (2) conduct unbecoming an officer; and (3) indecent language.
His court-martial is unusual even by today's strict sexual harassment standards, according to Black's attorney, Charles Gittins, who says Black is being sacrificed on the altar of victim advocacy to appease critics still complaining about previous service academy scandals. Other recent trends and events also have conspired to make Black's timing as unfortunate as his vocabulary. Perfect storms sink more than ships.
Black's case surfaced last fall at the same time that U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a member of the Naval Academy's Board of Visitors, was asking academy leaders why sexual harassment persists after years of studies, surveys, investigations and recommendations. (Hint: Years of studies, surveys, investigations and recommendations that pose women as victims and men as abusers? Just a thought.)