Gates' war on alphabet soup

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates is once again tackling the impossible. No, he’s not trying to teach Kim Jong-il some manners; he’s trying to end the military’s overuse of acronyms, according to a report by POLITICO’s Morning Defense.

Come to think of it, making sense of North Korea might actually be easier. The military is drunk on acronyms. It’s a second language that must be learned to communicate in the military. It has gotten to such a point that acronyms have become words themselves. Just ask a colonel sometime to tell you what the acronym he just used in a sentence actually stands for. Half the time he or she has to ask their aide to track it down.

Gates has had enough. In a Nov. 30 letter obtained by POLITICO, Executive Secretary Michael Bruhn instructs all Pentagon officials that: “Effective immediately, all written correspondence prepared for the secretary or deputy secretary of defense will minimize the use of acronyms or include a comprehensive glossary as the last tab of the package.”

The letter goes on to read: “”Many acronyms have multiple meanings and are not always well known outside a particular organization.”

“Although using acronyms in written material is intended to make writing clearer, their misuse or abuse does the exact opposite.”

Don’t be surprised if this policy runs down hill like most things do in the military. But it’s going to be a tough habit to break. Acronyms have taken on a life of their own. I’ve heard of plenty of organizations trying to name their unit in such a way to create a cool acronym.

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