Military Graphics: What they SHOULD Mean

I know you all are like me; you get excited when new doctrine gets released. Giddy, even. So I know that when the Army released Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 1-02 Terms and Military Symbols you immediately downloaded the whole thing and had a good read. Or not.

One thing always strikes me when going through this work is that without context, military operational symbols could look like some really silly things. So, without any more preamble, here is a selection of ADRP 1-02, as seen by extremely literal people.

Border patrol





What it looks like: “Peppermint stick cannon being fired by man in sombrero.”

What it is: “Border Patrol.”

Civil mil cooperation NATO

What it looks like: “This box is happy.”

What it is: “Civil Military Cooperation in NATO”

Coordination Point

What it looks like: “Pizza is here!”

What it is: “Coordination Point.”

Criminal activities victims

What it looks like: “No Abbey Road Crossing Allowed!”

What it is: “Criminal Activities Victims.”

Customs service

What it looks like: “Get in the box.”

What it is: “Customs Service.”


Drive by Shooting

What it looks like: “Be on the lookout for giant handguns on skateboards.”

What it means: “Drive by Shooting.”


Friendly forces encircled

What it looks like: “Sun wearing sunglasses, ironically.”

What it is: “Friendly Forces Encircled.”

Friendly planned or on order forward line of own troops

What it looks like: “The bouncing thing went that way.”

What it is: “Friendly planned or on order forward line of own troops.”

Infantry airborne unit

What it looks like: “Absolutely no seagulls allowed!”

What it is: “Airborne infantry unit.”


What it looks like: “Waves ahead.”

What it is: “Jamming.”

Launcher unmanned aerial system

What it looks like: “Guy with sunglasses and cigarette is unhappy.”

What it means: “Launcher unmanned aerial system.”

Marine Expeditionary Force

What it looks like: “We don’t know what this thing is, but it is pissed OFF.”

What it is: “Marine Expeditionary Force.”

That’s actually spot-on.

Mine Clearing

What it looks like: “Bring your coat hangers.”

What it is: “Mine Clearing.”

Mine Laying

What it looks like: “Giant bugs here; stay away.”

What it is: “Mine laying.”

Minefield AP

What it looks like: “We got a box of aliens.”

What it is: “Minefield, anti-personnel.”


What it looks like: “Um…phallic things over here.”

What it is: “Missile.”


What it looks like: “Absolutely no damn tents allowed.”

What it is: “Mountain infantry unit.”

Multiple rocket launcher

What it looks like: “We fenced in this fir tree, but just this one.”

What it is: “Multiple rocket launcher.”



What it looks like: “Spiked hair permitted.”

What it is: “Ordnance.”


What it looks like: “Pirates!”

What it is: “Pirates.”




What it looks like: “Dude locked in slammer.”

What it is: “Prison.”

Okay, so the Army does employ some literal people.

Recovery unmanned aerial system

What it looks like: “Happy sunglasses wearers.”

What it is: “Recovery unmanned aerial system.”

Rock Throwing

What it looks like: “BEAR CLAW!”

What it is: “Rock throwing.”

Signals intelligence MI

What it looks like: “Possible rain in Michigan, bring your crappy umbrella.”

What it is: “Signals intelligence.”


Surface Shelter

What it looks like: “Top hats worn here.”

What it is: “Surface shelter.”


Water quartermaster

What it looks like: “Key washing station.”

What it is: “Water quartermaster.”

Wire obstacle single strand concertina

What it looks like: “Christmas lights at this site.”

What it is: “Wire obstacle, single strand concertina wire.”

Flame Thrower

What it looks like: “Shepherds abiding in their fields.”

What it is: “Flamethrower.”

Booby trap

What it looks like: “Conical items; be prepared to do math.”

What it is: “Booby traps.”



Army aviation or rotary wing aviation

What it looks like: “Mandatory wear of bow ties.”

What it is: “Army aviation.”

air naval gunfire liaison company

What it looks like: “The wear of nautical themed bow ties is strictly prohibited.”

What it is: “Air naval gunfire liaison company.”

Air Defense Gun

What it looks like: “Very surprised emoji in use in this area.”

What it is: “Air defense gun.”

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4 Replies to “Military Graphics: What they SHOULD Mean”

  1. Decades ago, I played wargames by Avalon Hill and SPI, cardboard counters on maps, and they used the basic system of the time. Several of these are obvious descendants, many were not. There’s been too many steps. And some are combinations of almost too many symbols to make sense of, like that “Air naval gunfire liaison company.”

    Diagonal line Cavalry/Recon
    Black ball Artillery
    Stylised Propellor/Rotor Aviation
    Anchor Naval

    It’s a bit messy as a graphic on a game counter, and I doubt it would have been used in a boardgame, partly limited space. The standard counters were a bit small, when you needed game-useful info as well. But the basics don’t seem to have changed.


    1. Still own (and play) many AH games. Teaching the next generation that you can still game even with the power out! (Though describing the concept of “play by mail” does get me that tilted-head puppydog “huh?!” look).

      We old-enough grunts remember trying to understand some of these operational graphics in an actual field TOC (written in Expo Marker on a dusty acetate map overlay). Best of luck!


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