Wednesday, February 1, 2017

'Best Defense' Blog: Pro-Tips in Haiku Form

The Thinker on the Butte de Warlencourt,
watercolor, 1917, William Orpen
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Tom Ricks, who writes the "Best Defense" blog for Foreign Policy magazine and who has been a long-time supporter of the Red Bull Rising blog, is currently running a micro-essay contest (150-word maximum) on the theme: "What should a military professional profess?"

"It isn’t as easy as it sounds," he writes. "It can’t be just 'patriotic,' because it should have application to the militaries of other countries. […] I’m asking this now because I suspect we will see some tests of military professionalism in the coming weeks and months."

Read his full pitch here.

The contest, which is likely only for professional-bragging points, will run through the end of February. Any "winners" (defined as the "best or at least most interesting") will be posted in March. In the meantime, Ricks is occasionally featuring responses he's received so far. You know, to help people get the creative juices flowing.

Those familiar with my work in the award-winnng collection "Welcome to FOB Haiku" will not be surprised that my own attempt to address Ricks' question was a series of pithy, Japanese-style poems.

One of my favorites:
Your moral compass
should be red-light readable
for work in the dark.
You can read them all here on Ricks' blog.

Send your own micro-essay entries to: ricksblogcomment AT

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

MWSA Gold Medal Awarded to 'FOB Haiku'!

Book reviewers at Military Writers Society of America (M.W.S.A.) recently announced that "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poetry from Inside the Wire" (Middle West Press, LLC) has been awarded a 2016 Gold Medal in Poetry.

The award takes place after a 2015 MWSA rules revision. Under a new system, panels of three judges considered approximately 80 military-themed or -authored fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and other literature. According to the association: "The already stringent requirements were toughened further. Three judges read every book submitted and scored them based on content, visual, style, and technical criteria. The three scores were then averaged. To receive a medal, a book had to reflect MWSA's exacting technical standards as well as a high total score."

In a companion review to the award, author and Gold Star mother Betsy Beard described "Welcome to FOB Haiku" as "fresh, profound, illuminating." She continues:
[T]his is a must-read poetry book. It logs the humor and joy as well as the pathos and tragedy that comes as a result of serving in the American military.

The poetry is divided into several sections titled Basic Issue, Getting Embed, FOB Haiku, Lessons Learned, and Homecoming. A final section titled Notes contains valuable definitions as well as pronunciations for the ever-present military acronyms. Information in this section is critical to the understanding of how the poetry is to be read, since many of us do not know how to pronounce DFAC or TOC. My advice is to read the notes for each section before you read the poetry in that section. I think it will deepen the experience as well as allow you to get the meter that the poet intended.

One poem in particular changed the way I think of my son's service in Iraq, where he was killed in action. "Hamlet in Afghanistan" enabled me to realize more than I had allowed myself to think that "nothing we can ever do will change that day in the village." Heartrending, but true.

Not everyone in America understands the military culture. But for those who lived it, this book will bring remembrance and affirmation. For those who are families and friends of service members, this book will help you gain new understanding of your loved ones. For those without experience in this field, you may end up with a fresh look at what it’s all about.
"Welcome to FOB Haiku" can be purchased via on-line booksellers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more. For more information, visit:

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Video Puts 'Night Vision' Poem in New Light


Originally posted on the Red Bull Rising blog here!

Inspired by the March 2011 air-assault "Operation Bull Whip," conducted in Eastern Afghanistan by the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT), the poem "Night Vision" first appeared in Waterwood Press' 2015 war-themed anthology "No, Achilles." A brief analysis of the work was mentioned in that book's introduction.

The poem is reprinted in my print and e-book anthology "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire," from Middle West Press. It also appears on-line at Poets and War, where Stephen Sossaman writes, in part:
I know of no other poem from the war in Afghanistan as likely to be canonized in future high school curricula: the poem is accessible, apolitical, spoken from the point of view of an American soldier—and it illuminates what might be the central fact of the long American military operation in Afghanistan.

This poem quietly shows the unreconcilable clash of cultures, languages, and levels of technology that have frustrated American military efforts in Afghanistan for 15 years.

Sophisticated technology (night vision goggles) gives Americans enough illumination to see the land immediately beneath the helicopter ramp, something the Afghans without that gear cannot see. But any American confidence that they can see the future of the war, or see and understand Afghan circumstances on the ground, is illusory.
In a recent artistic experiment, I combined an audio narration of "Night Vision" with U.S. Army photographs of Operation Bull Whip. Hopefully, the resulting 75-second video will provide another way for others to discover and access the work. Check it out in the embedded video, above in this blog-post!