Leave it to Weaver
There was once a time when code names chosen for U.S. military operations were – for lack of a better word – cool.
In 1988, a sequence of air strikes on Iranian ships and oil platforms was dubbed Operation Praying Mantis. An endeavor to aid victims of a typhoon in Bangladesh in 1991 was called Operation Sea Angel. A great amount of gravity was leant to activities involving the atomic bomb by its moniker: Operation Crossroads.
The Vietnam War saw names like Operation Flaming Dart and Operation Rolling Thunder. Names such as these incite untold amounts of pride and angst in citizens sitting complacently at home as their sons and brothers die on foreign soil.
But starting in the late 1980s, under the supervision of the former Bush, operation code names took a seldom interrupted – as with the uber-hip Operation Desert Storm in 1991 – turn for the bland.
Movements in Grenada were dubbed Operation Urgent Fury – which, on its own, sounds pretty inspiring – but the adjective-noun combination began to persist with the 1989 manhunt of ousted Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, called Operation Just Cause.
That same grammatical profile has continued under the latter Bush with such exceedingly predictable designations as Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Valiant Resolve.
These are results of an obvious attempt at shaping domestic and international perceptions of U.S. military activities. What was once a simple practice of giving a public name to very secret strategies has evolved into a massive public relations machine.
The practice of giving operation names to U.S. troop activities started during World War II when separate names – really cool names like “Flintlock” – were given to movements in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. The practice progressed simply and unchanged until 1975 when the Joint Chiefs of Staff established a computer system to fully automate the maintenance and approval of code terms.
The system, called the Code Word, Nickname and Exercise Term System – shortened very militarily to NICKA – is still in operation today. The system is not a random word generator – nothing stemming from the government of this country is simple.
It is an automated database for submitting, validating and storing potential operation names. The authority to create the code names rests among 24 separate Department of Defense components, agencies and commands.
The JCS assigns each of these organizations a series of two-letter sequences and requires that the first word of each two-word operation name begin with a letter pair from one of the sequences. For example, the U.S. Atlantic Command is assigned a number of two-letter alphabetic sequences: AG-AL, ES-EZ, JG-JL, QA-QF, SM-SR, and UM-UR.
Selecting the letter pair UR from the last of these sequences, the code name Urgent Fury was recommended for the aforementioned 1983 invasion of Grenada. You’re very correct in your assessment that this makes absolutely no sense, but in the spirit of going with the flow, I hereby submit my own suggestions for each of the possible USACOM two-letter combinations:
Operation Avaricious Greed
Operation Alabaster Latrine
Operation Enthusiastic Shriek
Operation Emaciated Zebra
Operation Jazzy Grandfather
Operation Joyful Lecher
Operation Quiet Airbag
Operation Quadratic Fiddle
Operation Sluggish Mastication
Operation Singular Rumination
Operation Ulterior Motive
Operation Ultrasonic Revolver
Hire me, Department of Defense. I promise to come up with such astounding operation code names that the citizenry will no doubt remain perpetually distracted from the quagmire of needless U.S. soldier deaths in which our military is currently stranded, thus ensuring the reelection of the most reprehensible president under whose control this country has ever has the misfortune to squander.
Hire me quick – November swiftly approaches.
Matt Weaver is chief designer. His column appears on Thursdays.