Whatâs in a Name? âOdyssey Dawnâ Is Pentagon-Crafted Nonsense
The U.S. militaryâs nickname for the no-fly zone inÂ Libya sounds like the beginning of a long adventure. But Defense Department officials insist that thereâs no hidden meaning behind âOperation Odyssey Dawn.â Itâs just the product of the Pentagonâs semi-random name-generating system.
Each command within the vast Defense Department apparatus is given a series of two-letter groupings that they can use for their operationsâ two-word sobriquets. Under the system, the U.S. Africa Command, nominallyÂ in charge of the Libya strikes, was given three sets of words that it could begin the operation with.
âThese words begin between the letters JF-JZ,Â NS-NZ and OA-OF, and those three groups give about 60 some odd words,â explains Africom spokesman Eric Elliott. âSo, the folks who were responsible for naming this went through and they had done recent activities with NS and they went to O.â
Using the O series of letters, Africom officials picked out âOdysseyâ for the first word. The second word is picked âas random as possible because thatâs the goal of these operational names,â says Elliot. Africom pulled out âDawnâ for its second word and the resulting combination, âOdyssey Dawn,â is devoid of any intended meaning, Elliott insists.
The modern system for assigning names to operations, exercises and the like came out of bad PR experiences in the Korean and Vietnam wars, according to Lt. Col. Gregory Sieminskiâs brief history of âThe Art of Naming Operations,â published inÂ Parameters in 1995.Â Nicknames like âOperation Killerâ during the Korean war and Vietnamâs âOperation Masher,â Sieminski wrote, caused controversy when reported in the press. As a result, the Pentagon issued its first guidelines Â restricting how nicknames can be formed in 1972 and created the two-letter system in 1975.
Combatant Commands still have to be careful about what words they pick under the two-letter system.Official guidelines prohibit âwell-known commercial trademarksâ in operation nicknames, as well as Â âexoticâ or âtriteâ choices. Nicknames canât be spelled similar to or sound like codewords.
And in a reflection of the negative impact of âKillerâ and âMasher,â Pentagon wordsmiths arenât allowed to use terms that convey âa degree of aggression inconsistent with traditional American ideals or current foreign policy.â They alsoÂ mustnâtÂ give offense to American allies, âfree-world nationsâ or any âparticular group, sect or creed.â
Mistakes can still happen while following the rules. An Army unit in Honduras once labeled an operation in Honduras âBlazing Trails,â which in Spanish can translate to âShining Path,â the name of Peruvian terrorist group.
The two-letter system isnât the exclusive way to pick an operation and exercise names. For larger operations, like the first Gulf Warâs operationsÂ Desert Storm and Desert Shield, commanders have picked names that sound good to them or influence public opinion â something Sieminski dates to the renaming the invasion of Panama to âJust Causeâ from âBlue Spoon.â
Some lesser operations, like a 2004Â roundup of insurgents in Kirkuk called âOperation Slim Shady,â also donât seem like they would have passed through the Defense Departmentâs official guidelines.
Coalition partners in the no-fly zone have their own operation names. Britainâs Ministry of Defence labeled its participation in the no-fly zone âOperation Ellamyâ; Canadaâs efforts are called âOperation Mobile.â Ever a patron of the arts, France seems to be the only coalition partner going for the poetic route. It calls its operations in Libya âHarmattan,â referring to a âhot, dry wind that blows from the northeast or east in the western Sahara.â
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- What’s in a Name? ‘Odyssey Dawn’ is Pentagon-Crafted Nonsense (wired.com)
- In and Out? ‘Odyssey’ Title Suggests Something More (foxnews.com)
- War on Libya and Control of The Mediterranean (revolutionizingawareness.com)
- What’s In A Code Name? (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)
- Why ‘Odyssey Dawn’? | Charlotte Higgins (guardian.co.uk)