Even the military snaps to attention when it comes to identifying a new mission with a distinctive name. Consider:
- Operation Desert Storm (the Persian Gulf War, 1991).
- Operation Urgent Fury (Grenada, 1983).
- Operation Rolling Thunder (aerial bombardment of North Vietnam, 1965).
- Operation Overlord (the Normandy invasion, D-Day, 1944).
The practice of “branding” a military operation is relatively new, less than 100 years old. Some historians say the Germans pioneered the practice during World War I by giving missions religious and mythological titles, including Valkyrie and Archangel.
Winston Churchill, who personally named the Normandy invasion, warned against the dangers of inappropriate code names. Churchill even created a set of guidelines for naming military missions:
- Operations in which large numbers of men may lose their lives ought not to be described by code words which imply a boastful or overconfident sentiment. They ought not to be names of a frivolous character.
- Intelligent thought will readily supply an unlimited number of well-sounding 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 “Bunnyhug” or “Ballyhoo.”
- Proper names are good in this field. The heroes of antiquity, figures from Greek and Roman mythology, the constellations and stars, famous racehorses, names of British and American war heroes, could be used, provided they fall within the rules above.
Mission names sometimes change en route to the battlefield.
- The 1989 invasion of Panama was identified as Operation Just Cause. But before the Pentagon decided that name had good publicity potential, it was calling the mission Operation Blue Spoon.
- In 1991, Gen. Colin Powell nixed the ho-hum name Operation Productive Effortsuggested for a humanitarian relief mission in Bangladesh. Its replacement: Operation Sea Angel.
- The name for the Afghanistan war, Operation Enduring Freedom, unintentionally lived up to its name and “endured” as the longest initiative in American history. That name was officially retired at the end of 2014 and replaced with Operation Resolute Support.
These days, the military tends to lean heavily on evocative words such as Freedom, Liberty, Hope, Promise and Resolve. Once warplanes began striking Islamic State targets in October 2014, America’s newest war was dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve. (Some critics called the name bland and uninspiring.)
Sometimes the names are in a verb-noun sequence, but not always. (Operation Restore Hopein Somalia; Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti.) The Pentagon forbids the use of “well-known commercial trademarks” as well as words that carry “a degree of aggression inconsistent with traditional American ideals or current foreign policy.”
The Defense Department has issued its own definition for what is a nickname: “A combination of two separate unclassified words that is assigned an unclassified meaning and is employed only for unclassified administrative, morale, or public information purposes.” (Unclassified – OK, we got it!)
There is even a Pentagon computer program – not for naming operations, but to keep track of previous efforts and set parameters for future ones. The computer program has its own nickname, NICKA, drawn from the “Code Word, Nickname & Exercise Term System.”
Actual mission names are sill generated the old-fashioned way by staff at Defense Department command and agencies.
Just think of it as “Operation Making Monikers.”