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Giving military operations a name is more than a general's dart thrown at a board by D Moore

Giving military operations a name is more
than a general's dart thrown at a board

David Moore
Public Affairs Staff

Most soldiers can't say when the practice originated or how it works, but everyone recognizes that operations, battles and exercise must have names.

A recent random poll of about 50 Reserve and Guard soldiers revealed that most believe that names are taken from a book, picked to accurately describe the mission while emphasizing its importance. Some soldiers said they believed some mastermind, king, or czar of nomenclature issues names like a quartermaster issues boots.

Suppose that one person tells the operations officer or non-commissioned officer, "I think we will call your wonderful training event (or real world operation) 'Operation Aesthetically Pleasing.' It's the first operation of the year and contains the first two letters in the alphabet assigned to you so, according to my regulation, it's yours to enjoy.''
Now the young officer or NCO delivers the message to the chain of command and Operation "Aesthetically Pleasing" lands among the clutter on the commander's desk.

Supposedly, this is pretty much how it happened during the invasion into Panama for Operation Just Cause. While pilots were planning their flights and 82nd Airborne soldiers were packing chutes, others were worrying about their place in history.

According to a story written for the Training Doctrine Command by Gregory C. Sieminski, LTG Thomas Kelly, operations officer of the Joint Staff, received a telephone call from GEN James Lindsay, commander-in-chief (CINC) of the Special Forces Command. The call did not concern movement of massive numbers of soldiers and equipment nor their transport movement to the operation. Instead, the call asked about what many might have considered an insignificant detail.
"Do you want your grandchildren to say you were in Blue Spoon?" Lindsay asked.

Kelly immediately agreed the name should be changed. After hanging up the telephone, he discussed alternative names with his deputy for current operations, BG Joe Lopez.

"How about Just Action?" Kelley offered.

"How about Just Cause," Lopez responded.

Some writers and professors of military studies have marked this occasion as a trend-setter in naming operations. Some of these professionals have written that operations named in this fashion are a public relations gambit to sell the campaign, while many commanders in the field use them for motivating soldiers.

Actually, naming operations seems to have started with the German Command General Staff during the last two years of World War I. The Germans used code names for operational security. But they chose names that were not only memorable, but also inspiring.

The names used for the Great Western Front Offensive of 1918 were from religious, medieval, and mythical sources.
The American military got into the full swing of using code names for World War II by using color coded war plans for names such as Operation Indigo - the reinforcement of Iceland. But the full outbreak of World War II changed the practice of using colors and the War Department used 10,000 common nouns and adjectives that were derived from an unabridged dictionary with an adopted code word list. The British already used such a publication.

As a result, the names would not disclose operational areas. While the code names were randomly chosen, key World War II leaders, such as Winston Churchill, were so fascinated with the art of naming operations that he set forth directives on naming operations.

"After all, the world is wide, and intelligent thought will readily supply an unlimited number of names which do not suggest the character of the operation or disparage it in any way and do not enable some widow or mother to say that her son was killed in an operation called 'Bunny Hug' or 'Ballyhoo.'

Allied leaders who demanded the second offensive in Europe in World War II also wanted a strong name. As a result, Overlord was picked with its meaning linked to medieval lords of warring estates.

There were still some issues about naming operations when Operation Market-Garden was launched in September of 1944. The operation's goal, which really didn't have the appeal of a tea party, was an effort by combined Allied and ground assault troops to capture bridges over Dutch waterways in order to begin a rapid advance toward Germany. The third of airborne landings at Arnhem, proved to be a complete failure for British troops when German troops recovered from the surprise of the aerial assault. Of the 10,000 troops at Arnhem, 1,400 were killed and 6,000 were taken prisoner.
Due to operational security well-chosen nicknames were meaningless to those not involved with the operation and frustrating for the enemy trying to break the code name.

GEN Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War kept the World War II practice of using a code name from an established code list. The first name of the draft plan for the Inchon Landing was Operation Bluehearts, and the final plan was named Operation Chromite. MacArthur did change code name phrasing, however, by declassifying and giving to the press the code names once the operation had started.

Gen Matthew Ridgway, while serving under MacArthur during the Korean War, named several operations for the second phase of the war which drew political pressure because of the operation names.Ridgway drew political pressure for Operations Killer and Ripper among others.

"I did not understand why it was objectionable to acknowledge the fact that war was concerned with killing the enemy," he wrote in his book The Korean War.

While the military was using code names in Korea and later in the Vietnam War, the names of such exercises as Operation Ripper in Korea, and Operation Masher in Vietnam were not popular on the homefront. Politicians reported these names did not offer any sex appeal and the American public reported the names had no other purpose or goals but to kill Chinese or Vietnamese.

One highlight, GEN William Westmoreland code-named the Khe Sanh battle in 1968 Operation Niagra. He named the operation Niagra so he could reassure demoralized soldiers and Marines by invoking the image of "cascading shells and bombs" on the enemy.

As the age of computer made its inroads, the Joint Chief of Staff (JCS) implemented guidelines and software to boot. The computer system was called the Code Word, Nickname, and Exercise System, the name was shortened to NICKA. The system is still in operation today. The naming of operations does not rest with these computer operators, but with 24 Department of Defense components, agencies, and commands. All the agencies are assigned two-letter alphabet sequence.
During the deployment for the Gulf War in 1990, CENTCOM staff officers compiled a three-page list of possible names. GEN H. Norman Schwartzkopf first selected Peninsula Shield, but the first two letters were not assigned to the command. CENTCOM was unable to use the name since it was rejected by the JCS. Another proposed name was Crescent Shield. This was also rejected.

Finally, CENTCOM proposed Desert Shield and it was approved. Schwartkopf continued to use the term desert in a theme for the campaign, which later became Desert Storm and the nickname Desert Saber was given for the ground offensive.So, how does an exercise or operation get its name?

Well, in short, first select two letters of the first word from alphabetical blocks assigned to the command. The second word can be selected at random.

For example, TH is assigned for this story - the operation name is - The End.

Monday, April 29, 2002

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