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Good Question: How Are Military Operations Named?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – When the United States decided to join allies in launching an attack on Libya, the U.S. military titled it “Operation Odyssey Dawn.” So, how are military operations named?

According to Gregory Sieminski’s exhaustive history, The Art of Naming War, the practice started for the U.S. near the end of World War I, when operations were named after colors, like Operation Indigo and Operation Grey.

During the Korean War, the practice of making names public wasn’t necessarily helpful to the public perception of the military. To inspire the troops, they picked names like Operation Ripper, Dauntless, Roundup and Killer.

The same happened in Vietnam with names like Operation Blastout, Flaming Dart and Masher.

“So the military said this can’t happen again,” according to Macalester College professor Mike Griffin, who studies how images and names affect our views of war.

“If you have a name like Operation Iraqi Freedom people say, ‘Hey this is a good thing, I want to be on the right side of this.’ This can be a powerful way of framing the information about the war,” said Griffin.

After Vietnam, the military came up with pages and pages of procedures on how to pick a non-offensive operation name. Those procedures largely stand today.

With large battles, top commanders choose the name to sound strong and influence public opinion.

Today, there is a more systematic way of naming battles. Each military command is assigned about 60 permanent battle first name words. The Africa Command, which is running the Libya attack got words starting with J, N and O.

Officials picked Odyssey from their list. Then they added Dawn.

“I think names are powerful,” said Griffin.

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