8 of the all-time worst named military missions and war games in history

Mandatory Fun
Marines with 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion wait for the signal to enter the water on their way to the USS Wasp during Exercise Bold Alligator 2012. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Martin Egnash)

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

While researching another story, I came across a recent exercise designed to steel NATO for battling Russian subs. The war game was named for a ferret-like creature that subsists on insects and worms.

Exercise Dynamic Mongoose.

Nothing like a small mammal to drive terror into an adversary's heart.


How do military leaders come up with these? In the case of the US, military commands are assigned blocks of the alphabet, say from AA to AD, from which they can choose two word names. Such as Agile Diver. The rules forbid "commercial trademarks," "anything offensive to good taste," or that are similar in spelling to a code word.

They also set aside words for certain commands. "Cheese," for example, is only to be used by the chief of naval operation's office. Ditto "rabbit."

(Great Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill specifically warned about "frivolous" words, saying no one would want to tell a grieving mother her son died in an operation named "Bunnyhug.")

Here's a totally objective guide to the worst-named military operations and exercises of all time.

Exercise Bold Alligator

Bold Alligator is a large-scale amphibious exercise that showcases naval forces like the US Marines.

U.S. Marine Corps/Pfc. Nicholas Guevara

Alligators are cold-blooded and pretty low energy most of the time.

Operation Black Ferret

Ferrets are small, furry mammals that have been domesticated. The wild ones are known to dance a gig to hypnotize their prey, according to Mental Floss.

Operation Black Ferret was a search and destroy mission in Vietnam.

Operation Mermaid Dawn

In addition to not finding ferrets frightening — setting aside "The Big Lebowski" scene where a ferret scares the Dude in a bathtub — I don't especially find the prospect of mermaids at dawn threatening.

Rebels named their 2011 assault on Tripoli, according to this excellent overview of military naming by Mental Floss.

Operation Flea Flicker

This was the name for a 2005 mission to seize weapons and propaganda before a referendum on the Iraqi constitution.

U.S. Army via Business Insider

Got an itch?

Operation Cajun Mousetrap III

What about the mousetrap makes it Cajun? And did this mousetrap work better the 3rd time around?

This was the name of a nighttime raid on Samarra, Iraq in 2004.

Exercise Steadfast Jazz

The saxophones of the US Air Force's jazz ensemble. Airman 1st Class Jalene Brooks/US Air Force

U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Jalene Brooks

This is one jazz set that just doesn't quit!

Fully 6,000 troops in NATO's ready-response force participated in this ludicrously named 2013 exercise.

Hat tip to Business Insider's Pentagon Correspondent Ryan Pickrell for the suggestion.

Exercise Dynamic Mongoose

The mongoose's connection with this massive NATO naval exercise remains unclear to the author.

U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Amanda S. Kitchner

Notably, NATO also has an Exercise Dynamic Manta.

Operation Therapist

How does it make you feel?

The was the name of a 2005 Army mission in Tikrit, Iraq.

Notable Mentions

These operations and exercises almost made the cut.

Gringo-Goucho: Aircraft carrier exercises involving the US and Argentine navies. The term "gringo" occasionally has a pejorative meaning for English-speaking Americans.

Team Spirit: A joint US-South Korea training that ended in 1993, and that keeps reminding me of Nirvana's 1991 hit, "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

Operation Desert Snowplough: Reportedly a name for a Danish operation during the Iraq War.

Operation Frequent Wind: The evacuation of civilians from Saigon in 1975.

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Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.

On April 11, 1966, Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine) responded to a call to evacuate casualties belonging to a company with the Army's 1st Infantry Division near Cam My during a deadly ambush, the result of a search and destroy mission dubbed Operation Abilene.

In the ensuing battle, the unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached. Despite the dangers on the ground, Pitsenbarger refused to leave the soldiers trapped in the jungle and waved off the medevac chopper, choosing to fight, and ultimately die, alongside men he'd never met before that day.

Decades later, those men fought to see Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 8, 2000, they won, when Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.

The Last Full Measure painstakingly chronicles that long desperate struggle, and the details of the battle are told in flashbacks by the soldiers who survived the ambush, played by a star-studded cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.

After Operation Abilene, some of the men involved moved on with their lives, or tried to, and the film touches on the many ways they struggled with their grief, trauma, and in the case of some, feelings of guilt. For the characters in The Last Full Measure, seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the Medal of Honor might be the one decent thing they pull out of that war, remarks Jackson's character, Lt. Billy Takoda, one of the soldier's whose life Pitsenbarger saved.

There are a lot of threads to follow in The Last Full Measure, individual strands of a larger story that feel misplaced, redacted, or cut short — at times, violently. But this is not a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. This tangled web is part of the larger narrative at play as Scott Huffman, a fictitious modern-day Pentagon bureaucrat played by Sebastian Stan, tries to piece together what actually happened that fateful day so many years ago.

At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects.

The skepticism of Pentagon bureaucracy and Washington political operators is on full display throughout the movie. When Takoda first meets Huffman, the Army vet grills the overdressed and out-of-his-depth government flack about his intentions, calls him an FNG (fucking new guy) and tosses Huffman's recorder into the nearby river where he's fishing with his grandkids.

Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman alongside Samuel Jackson as Billy Takoda in "The Last Full Measure."(IMDB)

As Huffman spends more time with the grunts who fought alongside Pitsenbarger, and the Air Force PJs who flew with him that day, he, and the audience, come to see their campaign, and their frustration over the lack of progress, in a different light.

In one of the movie's later moments, The Last Full Measure offers an explanation for why Pitsenbarger's award languished for so long. The theory? Pitsenbarger's Medal of Honor citation was downgraded to a service cross, not because his actions didn't meet the standard associated with the nation's highest award for valor, but because his rank didn't.

"The conjecture among the Mud Soldiers and Bien Hoa Eagles is that Pitsenbarger was passed over because he was enlisted," Robinson, who wrote and directed The Last Full Measure, told Task & Purpose.

"As for the events in the film, Pitsenbarger's upgrade was clearly ignored for decades and items had been lost — whether that was deliberate is up for discussion but we feel we captured the spirit of the issues at hand either way," he said. "Some of these questions are simply impossible to answer with 100% certainty as no one really knows."

The cynicism in The Last Full Measure is overt, but to be entirely honest, it feels warranted. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think back to recent stories of battlefield bravery, like that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who ran into a burning Bradley three times in Iraq to pull out his wounded men — a feat of heroism that cost him his life, and inspired an ongoing campaign to see Cashe awarded the Medal of Honor.

There's no shortage of op-eds by current and former service members who see the military's awards process as slow and cumbersome at best, and biased or broken at worst, and it's refreshing to see that criticism reflected in a major war movie. And sure, like plenty of war movies, The Last Full Measure has some sappy moments, but on the whole, it's a damn good drama.

The Last Full Measure hits theaters on Jan. 24.

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"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

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