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Top 5 coolest call signs used since WWII

The greatest call signs always have the best origin stories.
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a plane with the pilot's name and call sign "Spock" at a permanent display
A F/A-18C Hornet on display in the National Naval Aviation Museum has pilot Cmdr. Mike Anderson’s call sign painted on it.

Call signs have been in use in military history since the invention of the telegraph. According to the National Naval Aviation Museum, it is estimated that military call signs arose around the 1930s to identify units in the heat of battle. The Department of Defense states that around 1970 is when call signs evolved into how we know them today. Like most military traditions, the origins are unknown and experts attempt to give their best explanations on how it came to be. Call signs are no exception. Originally, call signs were given like nicknames, based on your personality and physical characteristics.

Here are some of the top Valhalla-worthy, coolest call signs thought up since World War II

1. Lucky forward

General Patton in his Army uniform
George Patton. U.S. Army Photo

Company officers or those in a leadership billet often end their call sign with the number ‘6.’ The tradition comes from the battlefields of World War II. This is a tribute to General Patton himself as he was called ‘Lucky 6’ because he was the commanding officer of the Third Army. His individual call sign was ‘Lucky Forward.’ Modern officers follow suit with something unique that follows tradition in order to identify themselves. For example, if a company commander decided his call sign was ‘Reaper’ his individual call sign may be ‘Reaper, actual.’ Similarly to the original ‘6’, the word ‘actual’ is used to identify a company commander and above. It goes without saying that battalions will switch up their call sign standard operating procedures contingent on their operational security needs. The proper call sign can strike fear into the hearts of the enemy before a major engagement.

2. Bloody Bucket

The insignia of the 28th Infantry Division
28th Infantry Division’s insignia, nicknamed the Bloody Bucket by German Forces during WWII

Originally known as the Keystone Division, the 28th Infantry Division was named as such because most of its troops hailed from the Pennsylvania National Guard (Pennsylvania being the Keystone state). But when the 28th landed on Normandy just a few weeks after D-Day, the Germans had a new name for the Division that stuck: Bloody Bucket. The shape and color of their keystone insignia reigned fear and terror on the German forces and the 28th literally wore it as a badge of honor.

3. Chaos

General Mattis is essentially a military god to the Marine Corps. The retired General has a good sense of humor and charisma that is required to lead Marines. The former Secretary of Defense has a book titled ‘Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead’ where he expands on his military mindset and his experience. While Mattis is commonly referred to as “Mad Dog,” his call sign was given to him when he was just a regimental commander in Twentynine Palms. Mattis gave a commencement address where he explained how it all went down. One day, as he was leaving the office, he noticed “Chaos” was written on the operations officer’s whiteboard. “I said, ‘What’s this about?’ I’m curious, you know. We all are. He says ‘oh you don’t need to know that,’” which, of course, only raised more eyebrows and questions.

“Finally, he kinda said, ‘Well it means the colonel has an outstanding solution,’ and it was very much tongue in cheek, ladies and gentlemen. They didn’t consider all my solutions quite as outstanding as I enthusiastically promoted them,” said Mattis. And so CHAOS was born.

4. Rawhide

In the video above, secret service agent Jerr Parr used the President’s codename when he reported the President’s injuries over the radio on March 30, 1981. President Ronald Reagan’s strong stances on the Soviet Union and communism made him an international target. He voiced his resolve to 5,000 members of the AFL-CIO at the Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C. and was met with an assassination attempt immediately after. With the quick reaction of the Secret Service and law enforcement, the President was able to recover two weeks later commenting “getting shot hurts.” Rawhide is an appropriate call sign for someone who is tough as nails.

5. El Nino

One day, as a boot Marine minding my own business, my seniors called me over with a question. They asked, “how do you say ‘the kid’ in Spanish?” I did not read the room and said it was ‘niño’. How naïve I was. From then on ‘El niño’ was my call sign in the Marine Corps. I hated it but the more I showed that it bothered me, the more ridiculous my platoon called my new name. They sang it on patrol, they shouted on the ranges, and those MFs even used me as a unit of measurement saying an IED was ‘approximately 50 niños away’ over the radio. The best call signs are those given to you by your brothers. Especially if it bothers you. Looking back, I wouldn’t change it for the world.