Red Bull Rising Book Review: FM 101-5-1 MCRP 5-2A: Operational Terms and Graphics by Paul David Adkins

Review Posted on | 2017 | by Randy Brown | FM 101-5-1 MCRP 5-2A: Operational Terms and Graphics by Paul David Adkins is now available: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | IndieBound | Books-A-Million | Indigo Books ($14.95).

Review by Randy Brown

This recently published book closely follows Adkins’ cheekily gothic war-poetry collection “Flying Over Baghdad with Sylvia Plath,” also published by Lit Riot Press. Where the former explores modern wartime experience armed with Addams Family quirkiness and clever literary references, this recent entry leans into the foxhole walls of military vernacular and symbology.

Stick with me, soldier. It’s funnier … and “funner” … than it sounds.

Rather than as a list of titles, the Table of Contents is presented as series of map overlays, each over an abstracted Baghdad. On these pages, each of the book’s 43 poems is associated with a particular rune-like symbol. Those symbols mark kidnappings, convoys, Improvised Explosive Devices (I.E.D.), and other battlefield occurrences, per the current military reference. (In military fashion, the runes are explained in the poetry book’s appendix.)

For various assumed reasons, Adkins does not explicitly address his many years of uniformed service. His opening poem, however, points to experiences as an analyst of patterns and terrain—a worker or manager in intelligence, located in a Tactical Operations Center (“TOC”). In “Military Intelligence,” he memorably demonstrates that one does not have to be a front-line soldier to feel and act like a sheepdog. I’ll not reveal the punchline—it is thrilling and artful and tragically, heroically true—but here’s the set-up:

I did not see bodies,
blood nor burning trucks.
I did not brush aside
shrieking women in the flaming market
nor ignore their sobbing children.

I stayed on the FOB.

But I knew.

I did not see
but knew the way
I knew what happened
in the room next door
in college […]

A Red Bull Rising review of Adkins’ first book is here. In that review, I lamented that examples of Adkins’ more absurdist humor, such as the joyous “Helicopter Ride with a Cadaver Dog” and the true-life latrine humor of “Iraqi Army Unit on Camp Striker, Baghdad Iraq”—were AWOL in that collection. I am pleased to report that these favorites, however, as well as new works, are now present and accounted for in “Operational Terms and Graphics.”

Each poem is a war story, a slice of Forward Operating Base life, a storyboard about battlefield actions that range from the significant to the mundane. Adkins’ touch is light and direct, even when his subjects are dark. His reports and anecdotes include: observations on how male soldiers cover for female counterparts when they need to urinate during convoy missions (“Poncho Liners”); how distributions of “humanitarian supplies” are either received or rejected by Iraqi civilians (“Water Bottle Delivery”); and how IED-aiming markers removed by U.S. troops are soon replaced (“Tree of Woe”).

Given my own attempts toward depicting Forward Operating Base (“FOB”) life through poetry, I particularly appreciate when Adkins casts his gaze inside the protective wire. There are any number of poems that turn me green with envy. In “Passing the Flags,” for example, he accurately and humorously depicts the flowery displays found at every Army shower point:

Throughout the shower trailer,
amid the steam and hiss
and shaving men
hung towels of every color.

The Army issued brown terry.
We buried
those spares in duffel bags
deep as tulip bulbs.

But in the trailer—yellow bath,
lime green beach, purple, chartreuse hand.
Sky blue, orange, even a pink washcloth

— Excuse me — it’s salmon. […]

Adkins’ humor is never offered without purpose, however. His work provides a necessary and complicating perspective, a counter-narrative designed to cut through the jingoistic fireworks of more mainstream military story-telling. As his narrator says in the persona poem “Iraqi Barber on FOB Barber”:

[…] I noticed soldiers rush.

No time, no time

for a shave, an eyebrow trim. […]

[…] I clip and snip.

They tap their fingernails
against the armrests—
on empty guns.

Like the soldiers held briefly in a barbarous hair-cutters chair, Adkins’ work should give us all pause.

Savor it. Revel in it.

It is sneaky. It is snarky. It is … insurgent.

Randy Brown Biography

Randy Brown embedded with his former Iowa Army National Guard unit as a civilian journalist in Afghanistan, May-June 2011. He authored the poetry collection “Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire” (Middle West Press, 2015). His work has appeared widely in literary print and on-line publications. As “Charlie Sherpa,” he blogs about military culture at:

More Book Reviews

“Great read from a well established author. Paul’s work is fantastic and should be read by anyone who has a veteran in their family.” – Amazon Customer, Amazon

“Paul David Adkins is a veteran and poet who knows a war zone’s brutality, beauty, humanity, and odd moments of levity. His clear-headed storytelling and attention to detail adds another important voice to what we know of war and war’s leavings, and how all who survive it are changed. These are people and poems I will carry with me for a long time, and gladly.” – Karen Skolfield, US Army Veteran, Author of Frost in the Low Areas

“Regret, resignation, exhaustion, boredom, absurdity, rage, Adkins’ subjects shoulder wartime burdens with a vulnerability that is intensely human. Foregoing the bravado of traditional frontline narratives, Adkins gives voice to a wide cast of supporting players. In this collection we hear from bereft wives, Iraqi schoolboys, logistic contract workers, forgotten tower guards and terrorized translators. Adkins’ remarkably candid insights are as inborn to the collective OIF deployment experience as the rasping sibilance of boots on gravel.” – Molly Hurd, US Army, Iraq War Veteran, Two-Time Bronze Star Recipient

“The hybridity of Paul David Adkins’s new book, Operational Terms and Graphics, demands a reader sit up, pay attention. Adkins takes a government codification system, one he was immersed in, and pairs that system’s signs with realistic, taut poems that humanize the symbols. This is what war does: destroys, alters, and, yes, creates, as Paul David Adkins so cleverly demonstrates in Operational Terms and Graphics.” – Lucy Logsdon, Poetry Editor and Tutor 

FM 101-5-1 MCRP 5-2A: Operational Terms And Graphics


Author: Paul David Adkins
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9976943-7-6
Pages: 114
Genre: Poetry
Retail: $14.95
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | IndieBound | Books-A-Million | Indigo Books
Wholesale purchase options will be available for booksellers and non-booksellers.


About Paul David Adkins

Paul David Adkins attended Mercer University and Washington University. He then joined the US Army, serving for over 21 years. He toured Afghanistan once, as well as Iraq three times.

Upon returning from Afghanistan, he began writing to process his war-time experiences. He enlisted the assistance of poet Kelli Russell Agodon, allowing him to better share his war-related work.

Lit Riot Press published his debut collection La Doña, la Llorona in 2016, and in 2017 Flying over Baghdad With Sylvia Plath. Chapbooks include Stick Up (Blood Pudding Press), The Great Crochet Question (Kind of a Hurricane Press), and The Upside Down House (Yellow Jacket Press). He works as a transition counselor and instructor within the SUNY University system, and has taught in a state penitentiary.

He lives with his wife Melanie and children Lily and Malachi in New York.