Ever since a team of Navy SEALs busted into terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden’s secret Pakistan compound and put a bullet through his eye, a debate has raged: Was it disrespectful to use “Geronimo” as a code name in the operation?
Geronimo, of course, is a famous Chiricahua Apache warrior. Native American leaders have decried that the military assigned his name to an infamous terrorist, particularly in light of the U.S. military service of several of Geronimo’s descendants. Update: The military later clarified that Geronimo was the name of the operation, and said bin Laden’s code name was “Jackpot.”
This blog post was not authored to take an issue on the brouhaha one way or the other. It is noteworthy, however, to point out all the other places Native American culture have been used in military naming conventions.
From the Apache helicopter to the Tomahawk missile, a variety of gear, vehicles and weapons have been assigned Native American names — including the Marine battalion in one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan right now.
First Battalion, 5th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., uses “Geronimo” as its call sign. The unit is currently patrolling Sangin district, where its sister battalion, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, engaged late last year in some of the heaviest fighting of the Afghan war.
Marines with 1/5 aren’t shy about using the Geronimo name, either. On May 4, the unit posted on Facebook a full list of Native American-inspired call signs that are used by various elements of the battalion:
Geronimo 101: Call Signs.
H&S Company: Huron
Alpha Company: Apache
Bravo Company: Blackfoot
Charlie Company: Cherokee
Weapons Company: Whitehorse
CAAT Platoons: Tomahawk 1 & 2
81mm Mortar Platoon: Mohawk
Scout Sniper Platoon: Seminole
Advisor Team: Dakota
Police Advisor Team 1: Comanche
Police Advisor Team 2: Shawnee
The logo for 1/5 also includes a small likeness of a Native American. A Marine source with the battalion tells me that it likely dates back to the World War I, when the unit was attached to an Army brigade that had a similar logo to commemorate their victories over native tribes in the previous century.
Readers, I’d be interested for your thoughts in the comments section below. Undoubtedly, the practice is offensive to some Native Americans, who bristle at the use of Native American-inspired naming conventions on just about anything, including sports teams.
On the other hand, a case can be made that 1/5 and other military units like it are honoring the warrior spirit of the Apache, Blackfoot, Seminole tribes and other communities whose name has been adopted.