Mideast edition, Thursday, May 3, 2007

YUSAFIYAH, Iraq — Shakespeare once asked, “What’s in a name?”

It’s a question Capts. Matt Dawson, 29, of Milwaukee, and Tom Garvey, 26, of Cleveland, often ask themselves.

The officers are the masterminds behind the operation names for the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y. And to Dawson and Garvey, there is equal parts art and science to the task.

A good mission name is memorable, descriptive of the operation, and, if it works, boosts morale, they say.

“There is a method to the madness,” Dawson said.

They wouldn’t, for example, send soldiers from the unit — nicknamed the Polar Bears — on a combat mission dubbed “Operation Polar Petunia,” Dawson said. “You have to think to yourself, if this mission goes down in history, how will it be remembered.”

Before there is a mission, there is a mission name, Dawson said. Deciding on an operation moniker launches the planning process, he said.

“Sometimes the hardest part of planning an operation is coming up with a cool name,” Dawson said.

Garvey added: “Sometimes we get it in a minute or two and sometimes it takes two days.”

Recently, though, there has been added difficulty. The battalion has launched a fair amount of missions while stationed around Yusafiyah, a small agricultural town south of Baghdad, notoriously referred to in the early days of the war as part of the “Triangle of Death.”

The Polar Bears have logged 36 operations in eight months.

“There are only so many words that make sense with ‘polar,’ ” Dawson said of the growing shortage of names.

The early mission names were simple. Dawson and Garvey went through operations Polar Blizzard, Polar Storm and Polar Thunder.

“We did a lot of weather stuff,” Dawson said. As the missions piled up, the captains moved to other genres.

“We had sports themes, weapons names,” Dawson said. “Everybody aspires to being original and creative.”

But there are limits, they said.

Operation names cannot dehumanize the enemy or risk being offensive. They also cannot depict the unit as acting in any way other than as a professionals. Therefore, operation monikers like Polar Rage, or Polar Retribution are out, Dawson said.

“We don’t use names that have a barbaric or imperialistic connotations,” he said. “We get a lot of inappropriate suggestions,” he said.

They have also gotten one or two good tips, they said. The hands-down favorite name so far for the captains has been Operation Polar Anvil of Crom, a reference to the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “Conan The Barbarian.”

“Anvil of Crom got a lot of fanfare,” Garvey said.

“There’s no way to judge what’s cool, you just know,” Dawson said.

With the pace of missions not slowing down, the captains have many brainstorming sessions in their future, they said. They have a board in their shared office where they list possibilities.

“We are drifting toward mythological figures like Operation Polar Hercules,” Dawson said.

“It’s getting a little difficult,” Garvey conceded.

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