How did Operation Iraqi Freedom turn into Operation New Dawn?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Sept. 3 2010 5:56 PM

Name That Mission

How did Operation Iraqi Freedom turn into Operation New Dawn?

Commanders in Afghanistan. Click image to expand.
Commanders in Afghanistan

The name of the U.S. military's mission in Iraq changed on Wednesday from "Operation Iraqi Freedom" to the soap-sudsy "Operation New Dawn." How does the military choose operation names?

It depends on the campaign's importance. For a big deal like the Iraq War, staff officers compile a list of two-word nicknames that seem appropriate, and their commanding officer picks one, keeping in mind that it may be used to sell the public on the validity of the undertaking. Then he submits his choice to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for approval and then the Secretary of Defense for a final OK. When Central Command was planning the initial deployment of troops to the Gulf before the first Iraq War, staffers came up with three pages' worth of possible names. General Norman Schwarzkopf chose Peninsula Shield, but the Joint Chiefs didn't go for that—or for Crescent Shield, either. They chose Desert Shield instead. When the actual offensive started, Schwarzkopf played off this name to come up with Desert Storm.

There's less leeway in naming minor operations. The Joint Chiefs of Staff assign each command agency in the Department of Defense a set of two-letter alphabetic combinations—Southern Command, for example, has BL and KE, among other pairings. (Or, at least, it did as of 2002. The document list is classified.) The first word of each nickname must start with one of these designated pairs; the second word is random. So when nicknaming the evacuation of military families from Panama in 1989, Southern Command used BL to come up with Blade Jewel. Another agency, delegated the letters "DI," chose Divine Strake for a proposed bomb test in the Nevada desert. Any potential name must be checked against a master list to make sure it's not a repeat, and sent up the chain of command for review.

Staffers coming up with Blade Jewel and the like also follow a set of taste guidelines. They're supposed to ensure that the nickname does not express too much bellicosity, offend any particular group or sect, or use well-known commercial trademarks. As Lt. Col. Gregory Sieminski explained in the autumn 1995 issue of Parameters, these guidelines, as well as the two-letter method, date from the very end of the Vietnam War and were probably a response to overly aggressive nicknames from that conflict—including two airstrikes called Flaming Dart I and II and a Napalm-heavy sweep through the Bong Son Plain called Masher. The alternate system for major operations like Desert Storm can be traced back to 1989, when Southern Command chose the moniker Blue Spoon for the invasion of Panama (working from the same letter set as Blade Jewel). Believing the name lacked gravity, higher-ups came up with Just Cause (not to be confused with Just 'Cause).

Explainer thanks Chris Perrine of the Department of Defense and Pat McNally of the Joint Staff.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Like  Slate  and the Explainer  on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 9:26 AM These Lego Masterpieces Capture the Fear and Humor of the “Dark” Side
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 8:46 AM The Vintage eBay Find I Wore to My Sentencing
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.