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What's in a military name?

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COMMENTS

25 March 2010 09:48

James Brown has worked as an Australian Defence Force officer and completed his Masters in Strategic Studies in 2009. These are his personal views.

A great article in the Washington Post last Saturday takes a detailed look at how the US military names its various operations. Names range from the predictable (Operation Roaring Tiger), through the contemporary (Operation Slim Shady) to the Orwellian (Operation Glad Tidings of Benevolence).

How do Australian Defence Force operation names stack up?

Australia's contribution to Afghanistan is codenamed Operation Slipper. I'm not sure that naming a combat operation after a piece of footwear worn by your grandfather will inspire military valour. 'Operation Cardigan', for example, wouldn't embolden me to storm a trench or jump on a grenade. It might trigger a desire to brew a nice cuppa, but that's about it.

The dictionary on my Macbook Pro defines a slipper as 'a light slip-on shoe, esp. one used for dancing'. There are certainly commentators, such as Jim Molan on this blog, who would describe Australia's military contribution to Afghanistan as all too 'light'. And dancing may be an apt metaphor for Australia's constantly coy 'don’t ask and we won’t say no' approach to US request for additional troops.

Using the flawless analysis that the dictionary provides, Australia's contribution to East Timor (Operation Astute) becomes 'showing an ability to accurately assess situations and turn this to one's advantage'. Given Australia's interests in the Sunrise Gas field development, I'm surprised that this operation name hasn't been keeping the pages of Green Left Weekly full for years.

Australia's initial Iraqi campaign was named Operation Catalyst – a bit of a risky nod to chemicals and therefore WMDs, but I can let it slide. The operation is now named 'Kruger'. This seems to be rubbing it in a little –  why are we naming our campaign in Iraq after a victorious soldier-leader who fought against us in the First Boer War?

The ADF also contributes troops to a UN outfit known as UNTSO – the UN Truce Supervision Organisation. The truce in question is that between the Arabs and Israelis after their spat in 1948. ADF officers provide a neutral presence to verify that everyone is behind the various red lines that they should be behind. In that context, you would think maintaining the appearance of impartiality would be paramount.

Operation Paladin is the name of our UNTSO contribution. The paladins were heroic and chivalrous knights of the court of King Charlemagne — so far, so good.

Except that Charlemagne spent a fair whack of his time forcibly converting his neighbours to Christianity. He also harboured a particularly trenchant dislike for neighbours of the Muslim persuasion. To make matters worse, the paladins were offed by Muslims after a particularly nasty act of treachery. So, I think we've pretty much picked a side there.

Just down the road in the Sinai desert Australia's contribution to peace monitoring is named Operation Mazurka. The Mazurka is a 'lively polish dance in triple time'. Now this is getting weird. What's with the dancing theme? Is some defence bureaucrat with a penchant for flamenco playing funny buggers with the ADF's operation names?

The next two names are just lovely and must appeal to the pastoral side of Australia's military. Our operations in the Sudan (Operation Azure) are named after a small purplish butterfly, and the military's work in Darfur is named after, well, a row of hedges (Operation Hedgerow).

By far the most popular ADF operation name involves the suffix 'Assist'. There have been seven such operations — 'Samoa Assist', 'Kiribati Assist', and 'Padang Assist' being just a few. These names make the ADF sound like some kind of regional breakdown service for over-heated states, which, come to think of it, is a pretty accurate description.

Photo by Flickr user clumsy jim, used under a Creative Commons license.

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