Out now is Levi J. Floeter’s New Army Officer’s Survival Guide: Cadet to Commission through Command. Floeter commissioned as an Army Infantry Officer from Eastern Washington University in 2008. Almost immediately after graduating Airborne and Infantry School at Fort Benning, Floeter received orders to deploy as a Platoon Leader in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from October 2009–July 2010. Since then, Floeter has held various positions as a Company X.O., Battalion Operations Assistant, Company Commander (on two occasions), and most recently serves as an ROTC instructor in the Military Science Program at the University of Washington. CPT. Floeter is married and is the father to one daughter.
[Amy Beard] Did you always want to be an Officer in the Army?
[Levi Floeter] I did not. Originally, I wanted to be an Air Force Pararescueman so bad my eyeteeth hurt when I was growing up. I was initially disqualified for enlistment out of high school for a surgery I’d had to my left shoulder, and it really threw me because I’d had no other plans. College wasn’t even on my radar as a young man, much less commission as an officer. It’s a funny world!
[AB] So if you didn’t always want to be an officer in the Army, why did you decide to write this book?
[LF] In my first command up in Alaska, I stumbled on an early manuscript of LTC Dave Dunphy’s book, The Iron Major Survival Guide, on our unit shared drive. This was right around the time I was getting really frustrated with being a Company Commander. It seemed then that I couldn’t do anything right, and yet, I had been to the Career Course and Ranger School and had met all the gates the Army said I needed to be successful. I was supposed to be an “expert” at my job. It had me all confused, feeling lost like that. I knew tactics and doctrine, but I didn’t know anything about the other stuff Commanders are expected to know—legal matters or counseling or NCOERs or planning unit training when faced with a Brigades’ long range calendar. I was even wondering whether the Army was right for me.
Reading that manuscript was a pivotal moment for me because, while it was only about 36 pages or so at that time, that little book was jammed full of advice to help struggling Majors—and as I read it, it opened my eyes to a reality. I was looking at the work of a Lieutenant Colonel who was trying to make it easier on Majors coming up, and here he was explaining things to them that I always thought everybody but me somehow simply must have learned somewhere I hadn’t been yet. It stunned me, and I was suddenly fully aware that others had been or were currently also in my shoes, and that at every level we are all just trying to “figure it out.” The Army does a fantastic job of telling officers the “what” of their job, but too often as a whole, the Officer Corps doesn’t have a lot written down in the “how” category. I felt that if a Lieutenant Colonel saw the need to develop Field Grade Officers, why shouldn’t I should try to put something out there for those guys younger than me, and make it easier on them?
[AB] Your book is intended to aid the success of young officers. What are the most important characteristics an officer needs to be successful?
[LF] The officers I look up to definitely have some things in common. Based on them, I’d have to say that trustworthiness, temperance, decisiveness, and humility are all traits they share. I don’t think any officer can go wrong trying to hold on to those values. Or anybody, for that matter.
[AB] What is the best way to prepare for a career as an officer?
[LF] Read a lot, ask good questions, and take an interest in your program. Oh, and stay in shape!
[AB] Speaking of staying in shape, in the past few years physical standards for women in the military has been debated a good bit—why is gender integration, as it affects future officers or the Army, not addressed in this work?
[LF] Gender integration is a hot-button issue across the military these days, and the techniques described in here aren’t based on an officer’s gender. I didn’t feel gender had any place in the work; the advice here ought to be as good for a female finance officer as it would for a male engineer, or anyone else.
I had the fortune to serve my second Company Command in the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade when the first female Ranger students came through the course, and my views on gender integration and culture are two-fold.
It is my opinion that if a woman can serve in the Combat Arms successfully, she should be allowed to give it her best shot. No one, regardless of their gender, should be given a free pass into the Combat Arms for any reason because that could result in putting lives at risk in combat. As for the cultural implications—those remain to be seen. I don’t feel I’m an expert on predicting cultural changes.
[AB] Understandable. In the book, there is also an omission of other commissioning sources such as Green to Gold, or Officer’s Candidate School (OCS). Why is that not addressed?
[LF] Typically, Green to Gold has an audience that already knows a good deal about the Army, because they have at least four years enlisted time, and OCS really is it’s own beast. However, neither program is intentionally excluded from this book, and the advice in sections two and three would still help the new OCS or Green to Gold Commissionee the same as any other new LT or CO.
[AB] Since there are parallels for what may be seen as challenging or difficult for a new officer, what was the hardest thing about being a new Army officer?
[LF] The hardest thing for me as a newly commissioned LT was trying to figure out exactly what my job was, and how to do it well. I had a lot of energy and drive, but I didn’t necessarily know where to put it, and when you are working alongside a bunch of Staff-Sergeants and Sergeant’s First-Class who already have everything figured out, it can get really easy to be in the way rather than be value added to an organization. I didn’t want that, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and nobody likes thinking they are doing the right thing only to find out afterward that they just got in somebody else’s lane and made a mess.
[AB] Obviously your early years went a complete mess, and you must have had some highlights and moments of enjoyment. What did you enjoy most in your first few years in the Army?
[LF] I really enjoyed being a Company Executive Officer. It was after my time as a Platoon leader; I had been made the Battalion Assistant S-4 for about six months (that’s like a logistical officer), and then I got to be the Executive Officer of the same Company I had been a deployed PL in. I knew everybody, we had some good memories together from down-range, and I got to help a new CO and a group of new PLs come into the unit and prepare for their deployment from first-hand experience with that Company. It was the golden moment of my Lieutenant time.
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