The name assigned to the U.S.-led airstrikes might sound like the title of a rock album, video game or — as some have suggested — the name of a pornographic movie star. But the monicker has no specific meaning and has nothing to do with Libya, Libyans or the country’s leader, Moammar Gaddafi, according to Eric Elliott, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).
“You have operational names like Desert Storm or Iraqi Freedom that convey a message” and are chosen by the White House or senior Pentagon officials, Elliott said in an interview. “Others, like Operation African Lion, are symbolic of the location. Odyssey Dawn is neither of those.”
The Pentagon permits military commanders to assign two-word nicknames to military exercises or operations by following instructions laid out in a carefully-crafted Defense Department naming policy. The instructions assign each military command with a certain range of words that must be used to select the nickname’s first word.
AFRICOM is assigned words that start with JS-JZ, NS-NZ and OA-OS, according to Elliott. A recent headquarters exercise was called “Judicious Response” while another recent operation used the NS-NZ range, leaving OA-OS as the only option, he said.
“The goal is to create a name that has absolutely nothing to do with the activity of the region, so you could walk down the street in Washington during the planning stages and ensure that nobody knows it’s about Libya,” Elliott said.
Nicknames may be assigned “to actual events, projects, movement of forces, or other non–exercise activities,” according to the Pentagon. Officials are instructed to select titles that don’t “express a degree of hostility” or are “offensive to good taste or derogatory to a particular group, sect, or creed.”
Commanders are prohibited from using the words “project,” “exercise” or “operation” and cannot use words that may be used as a single word or two words, such as “moonlight.” The policy also bars “exotic words,” “trite expressions” and “well-known commercial trademarks.”
So how did commanders select “Odyssey Dawn?” A group of lieutenant colonels and majors met several weeks ago in the early planning stages of the operation and agreed that “Odyssey” was the only usable word in the OA-OS range. Then, “they sat around and brainstormed for a random word that went well with it,” Elliott said.
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This post has been updated since it was first published.