About the “New Army Officer’s Survival Guide”: An Interview with Captain Levi Floeter

Coming out in 2018 is Levi Floeter’s The New Army Officer’s Survival Guide: Cadet to Commission through Command. The following is a brief Q & A about Captain Floeter and his book.

Did you always want to be an Officer in the Army?

Actually, 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!

So if you didn’t always want to be an Officer in the Army, why did you decide to write this book?

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?

If your book is intended to aid the success of young officers, in your opinion, which are the most important characteristics of Officers that you have seen be successful?

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 for that matter, anybody.

What is the best way to prepare for a career as an Officer?

Read a lot, ask good questions, and take an interest in your program. Oh, and stay in shape!

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?

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 sex. 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 A) if a woman can serve in the Combat Arms successfully, she should be allowed to give it her best shot, and B) no one, regardless of their sex, 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. 

Understandable. In the book, there is also an omission of other commissioning sources such as Green to Gold, or Officer’s Candidate School. Why is that not addressed?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

Will there be other books in this same vein?

My wife and I started to write one together aimed at helping New Army Spouses, both from the perspective of the Soldier and the perspective of the spouse, so, hopefully yes.

We look forward to publishing the New Army Officer’s Survival Guide: Cadet to Commission through Command, out February 12, and we hope you’ll be on the lookout for this great book! Don’t miss out on our other exciting New Army Officer’s Survival Guide events:

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About Allen: Editor of The Southern Philosopher

Allen Mendenhall is associate dean and executive director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty at Faulkner University Jones School of Law. 

His previous books include Literature and Liberty (2014) and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Pragmatism, and the Jurisprudence of Agon (2016). He holds a B.A. in English from Furman University, M.A. in English from West Virginia University, J.D. from West Virginia University College of Law, LL.M. in transnational law from Temple University Beasley School of Law, and Ph.D. in English from Auburn University.

He edits the Southern Literary Review and has been an adjunct legal associate at the Cato Institute, a Mises Emerging Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute Canada, a Humane Studies Fellow with the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University, a policy advisor for the Heartland Institute, a staff attorney to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, and an assistant attorney general in the State of Alabama Office of the Attorney General.

He is an elected member of the Philadelphia Society, an associate of the Abbeville Institute, and the president of the Montgomery Lawyers’ Chapter of the Federalist Society. He lives in Auburn, Alabama, with his wife and two children.

To find out more about Allen, check out his his blog, The Literary Lawyer or follow him on Twitter @allenmendenhall.

The Southern Philosopher: Collected Essays of John William Corrignton will be out Fall 2017.

 

20 Question about Over the Top, answered by David Scott Stieghan

David StieghanToday we’re interviewing, Mr. David Scott Stieghan, Fort Benning, Georgia’s Infantry Branch Historian, and editor and annotator of Over the Top originally authored by Arthur Guy Empey. The following twenty items are fascinating tidbits about the book, author, WWI, and a little about the editor.

  1. )What does “Over the Top” mean? The title, Over the Top means three things to Empey. It is best known as a phrase to order or encourage troops to climb out of their trenches to cross No Man’s Land under enemy fire and to jump into the enemy’s trench with rifles, bayonets and hand grenades. Secondly, it meant that Empey had to leave his comfort zone of peace in America, cross the dangerous submarine-infested Atlantic Ocean to Great Britain, and join the British Army to fight as a Soldier. Third, Empey wrote the book to encourage his countrymen to get involved with what he considered a crucial struggle of the Western Democracies against Germany and its imperial allies. This was a war for the survival of the West. As the Empey’s book “Over the Top” went to press, he changed his introduction from an encouragement to get his countrymen to join the Allies to a rousing explanation of why they should fight and what it might look like for young Americans.
  2. ) Who wrote Over the Top and can you tell us a little bit about him? Arthur Guy Empey was an American citizen who served in the British Army as a Soldier in the trenches during World War I.  Empey was born in Utah the son of a Canadian father and American mother. He received part of his schooling in Virginia before the family moved to New York City. While still only seventeen, Empey lied about his age to join the New York National Guard and served in the Infantry and, for a time, in the state naval militia. His sense of adventure led him to enlist in the United States Regular Cavalry for two, three year hitches that included service in Georgia and Texas before his discharge at the rank of Sergeant. Returning to New York City, Empey was working with an engineering firm in Jersey City, New Jersey when the World War began in 1914. He served part-time as a Sergeant and recruiter in the State Cavalry in New Jersey and was certain that the United States would enter the war when 128 Americans were counted among the victims when a German submarine sank the British passenger liner SS Lusitania in 1915. After a few months passed and the United States remained neutral, Empey resigned all his civilian and military positions, obtained his passport, and sailed to Great Britain to enlist in the British Army. His book begins about the time of the sinking of the Lusitania and the story ends upon his discharge on account of wounds received in battle. He urged his fellow Americans to mobilize their industry and manpower to defeat Germany and her allies as we were “in it now.”
  3. Why do you think Empey wrote this book? After the SS Lusitania was sunk by a submarine, Empey felt that America should have declared war on Germany. Eager to get in the fight, Empey quit his job at an engineering firm in Jersey City, NJ, crossed the submarine-menaced waters of the Atlantic Ocean, enlisted and then fought as a member of the British Army. Following basic training, Empey was sent to fight in the the trenches of the Western Front in France where he was wounded at least twice. The second wound was serious enough to disable him and forced his return to America. Later, Empey wrote a series of short stories for publication in newspapers and magazines, but was soon convinced to publish his material as a book. As luck would have it, the book Over the Top appeared for sale a few weeks after the United States declared war on Germany and the Central Powers in 1917.
  4. What is Over the Top about? This book was the first of its kind which featured stories of the common Soldier’s life behind the lines and concentrated on the details of combat in the trenches.
  5. ) What is unique about this book? This was Empey’s first book and, by far, the most successful. An estimated one million copies were printed from May 1917 through November 1918.  Appearing in print within a month after  entering the war, Over the Top acquainted readers with the training and combat experienced by his main character “Tommy Atkins,” a common British Soldier. This offered the American reader a glimpse of what members of our own American Expeditionary Force might experience in this new Modern War. The book is also written in a humorous style by an artist who spent the rest of his life engaged in various forms of entertainment and self-promotion. It is an insider’s look at the Tommies of the British Army told in their slang by an American who served alongside them. Empey liberally spices his text with the jargon of this industrial war and includes a thirty page “Tommy’s Glossary of the Trenches” at the end which should be read completely for an explanation and for a funny look at the life of the Soldier.
  6. ) As editor, what interested you in Over the Top? Empey tells his story of fighting as a British Soldier from an American point of view. He does not take himself very seriously, but does consider his efforts as part of a crusade. The book is written as an explanation of the common Soldier’s life to a general audience as seen through the life of Tommy Adkins while training, fighting, and trying to amuse himself out of the ranks and trenches. New to the business, and a foreigner in Great Britain, Empey described everything in extraordinary detail, including common daily routines. What made it a fascinating book to those who wished to get a sense of the new style of war in 1917 are the same characteristics that make it informative and interesting to a modern audience. One would have to read a number of books, or collections of letters, by other veterans to enjoy the same level of detail offered by Empey in Over the Top. It is a classic that I read again every few years. Each time I read it, I find new details.
  7. ) Why would you recommend reading Over the Top? Over the years, colleagues and students have asked me what should be the first book about World War I that they should read.  I always tell them to find a copy of Arthur Guy Empey’s Over the Top and read it in one sitting, if possible. It is the most readable and entertaining introduction to the experience of trench fighting in print. Unfortunately, until now the only copies available were nearly one hundred years old, and they are getting hard to find. When I was presented with the opportunity to edit a series of classic World War I books, the choice was simple.  Not only have I always wanted to make Over the Top more widely available, but have also wanted to edit it to make it more accessible to modern readers. Empey only hints at his pre-war experience in the book.  He discretely censors many locations in an attempt to protect wartime intelligence. Not all of the terms make sense today, but I do my best to put it all into context for modern readers. While the essence of Empey’s unique writing style is retained, an additional introduction to the author himself and the setting in the front lines of the Western Front is added, along with additional illustrations.
  8. ) How was the book received when it was originally written? Somewhere around one million copies of Over the Top were printed during the eighteen months that the United States participated as a combatant in World War I. It immediately became a best-seller and turned Empey into a overnight celebrity. He and his book were mentioned or featured numerous times on the front page of the New York Times and other papers across the nation. Many surviving copies have multiple owner’s names written in the flyleaf suggesting that some copies were passed around as recommended reading. Many of those who expected to serve in the trenches in Europe purchased copies of Over the Top and even wrote home from France recommending that their families read it. For many Americans, the book was their window to the war as it was easily understood and enjoyed by a wide audience. It was certainly an important influence on public knowledge of trench warfare for the public while the war raged on.
  9. ) How does “Over the Top” compare to other works available about World War I? “Over the Top” was the only important book and primary source written about trench warfare and combat in World War I by an actual participant while the fighting took place.  All other books that appeared before the Armistice were related to strategy, politics, the overall conduct of the war, and other big picture issues or conjecture about how the Americans would serve. Empey was a common Soldier who trained and fought in the war at the front and published his experiences just as America was beginning to participate. The timing and subject was a perfect match for the needs of the reading, and fighting, Americans. Plus, Empey’s style was popular among many readers.
  10. ) What prepared you to edit “Over the Top” for modern readers? I enjoy the study of the Great War, or World War I, and have for over forty-five years. I have  been reading general histories, tactics manuals, and collecting militaria from the period all my life. Through the 1980s and 1990s, I sponsored Veteran’s Day events for surviving Doughboys and interviewed all that I could. In 1983, I escorted Sergeant Alvin York’s widow, Gracie, and a son and daughter, along with twenty-eight World War I veterans, across a football stadium at a Veteran’s Day half-time football game at Middle Tennessee State University. I, and the other members of the ROTC rifle drill team, wore historic American uniforms. I chose to wear the Doughboy uniform and to meet the oldest veterans who were to attend the game. The veteran Doughboys made a great impact upon me and I continued to seek them through my years serving as an Army officer, and for years beyond. They were a great inspiration to me. The vast majority of veterans do not write of their experiences and most will not share them with one who was not also involved in the war. The more I studied the dwindling number of Doughboys and listened to what they had to share during my interviews, the more I began to understand the horror of trench warfare and how they were permanently affected after facing modern killing machines.One of the film projects I worked on as a technical consultant resulted in the mini-series, “Truman,” starring Gary Sinise. I was initially hired to provide uniforms and props, but the director began to use me in front of the camera for the three World War scenes and used my suggestions to improve action and dialogue. My experience as a Field Artillery officer, military historian, and countless Doughboy interviews became an asset for the director to tap to make  “Truman” entertaining and historically accurate, particularly Sinise’s portrayal of Truman’s service as an Field Artillery battery commander. I have also made appearances in uniform in documentaries as an actor, and also as a subject-matter expert in other history television programs. I believe that what I learned from Doughboys, and from Empey’s writings, better equipped me to understand the experience of the Great War.

    After being discharged from a military career due to injuries stemming from a training accident with the U.S. Army, I had the opportunity to explore other occupations. These include college History instructor, museum and historical society director, Civil War battlefield and plantation director. After the attacks of 9/11, I resigned the latter position and returned to work for the United States Army as a civilian at Fort Benning, Georgia. For over fifteen years, I have been the primary Military History Instructor and the Infantry Branch Historian for the Army and continued to study and collect military and Western antiques. I have moonlighted since 1982 working on ninety-seven television documentaries or mini-series as an actor, subject-matter expert, technical advisor, or script writer. I have used my study of the American common Soldier and the changing technology of the battlefield to bring realism and accuracy to all these projects.

Thank you, Dave, for the interview and thank you, reader, for reading this. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our blogs and will enjoy reading Over the Top by Arthur Guy Empey.

About Turn Back Before Baghdad

A quarter of a century ago, Saddam Hussein was given the ultimatum to peacefully withdraw troops by January 15, 1991, from Kuwait before the United States and our allies took lethal action. Hussein failed to comply and Operation Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm, in attempt to swiftly bring an end to the war over the oil province in Kuwait.

Including commentary from the late Laurence Jolidon, Turn Back before Baghdad is a collection of firsthand dispatches from American and British correspondents in the thick of the action. Their accounts include eye-witness battlefield reports, descriptions of tragic friendly fire episodes, and colorful and humorous insights into how American and British soldiers lived on the frontlines.

Turn Back before Baghdad is filled with the excitement and emotion of life among soldiers preparing for, and engaging in combat. Read it to experience various daily accounts of Operation Desert Storm and learn intimate details from the soldiers and civilians who lived through that pivotal moment in history. The University of North Georgia Press is honored to announce our April 18, 2017 release of Turn Back before Baghdad, a true and commemorative account of Operation Desert Storm.

Journalism and Jolidon by Ron Martz

Of all the many strange and fascinating characters I met during my 40-year career in the newspaper business, perhaps none was more focused on the business of journalism than the late Larry Jolidon, author, editor, and original publisher of Turn Back Before Baghdad.

            I first met Larry, then working for USA TODAY, in the fall of 1990, when Cox Newspapers dispatched me to Saudi Arabia to report on the buildup of coalition forces preparing to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

I was not quite sure what to make of Larry at first meeting. He had this head of wild, curly hair, a sly smile that made you wonder what he knew that you didn’t, and an easy way of conversing with anyone at any level of military or civilian life that I came to admire and tried to emulate.

Larry was 10 years my senior, but we bonded quickly because we were fellow travelers, both of us having served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and later working at The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, although at different times.

With Larry, the priority every day was the story, whatever that story might be, and the story was always about people, not processes or procedures.

Although he was incredibly competitive when he was reporting a story, Larry was always willing to lend a hand to fellow journalists. During the run-up to the first Gulf War, Larry took on the thankless task of print pool coordinator, working with the military and his often obstreperous colleagues in the print media to determine who would be assigned to what press pools when the war started. He handled it with patience and good humor, despite numerous complaints and a lot of whining from his fellow journalists.

He did what he could to mollify as many people as possible, but in the end, the pool experiment was a failure because of the military’s inability to get stories back to the numerous print publications in a timely fashion. Once the war ended, Larry boxed up hundreds of stories that never saw print, sent them home, and created his own publishing firm, Inkslinger Press, to preserve them for history. The result is Turn Back Before Baghdad.
Larry’s loyalty to his fellow war reporters was evident again in Somalia in 1992. Following one reporting trip to a refugee camp, Larry and several other journalists were hurrying to get back to the relative safety of the capital of Mogadishu before one of the armed militia groups that roamed the roads after dark waylaid them.

Spotting something amiss on one side of the road, Larry stopped and found a wrecked SUV and another crew of journalists, some badly injured. Ignoring the approaching darkness, Larry supervised getting the more seriously injured stabilized and loaded onto the back of his truck before speeding off to Mogadishu and medical care. Larry later learned that the most seriously injured of the bunch, a French photographer, lost an eye but likely would have died had treatment been delayed any longer.

Larry was an old-school journalist committed to his craft.

Said Larry’s good friend and frequent traveling companion Mike Hedges: “No one I know embodied the qualities it took to be an extraordinary war correspondent more than Larry Jolidon.”

Motivation and Reception of Over the Top by Arthur Guy Empey: an editor’s explanation

We’ve talked a little bit before but, as with many books, there is still a question as to why the book was created and how the book was received.

Why do you think Empey wrote this book?

After his service in the war, Empey wrote a series of short stories for publication in newspapers and magazines but was soon convinced to publish his material as a book. As Empey’s Over the Top went to press, he changed his introduction from an encouragement to get Americans to join the Allies to a rousing explanation of why they should fight a war for the survival of the West.

With such a strong motive, can you tell us a little about how was the book received when it was originally written?

Sure. Over the Top immediately became a best-seller, selling somewhere around one million copies during the 18 months that the United States participated as a combatant in World War I. Over the Top turned Empey into an overnight celebrity. He and his book were mentioned or featured numerous times on the front page of the New York Times and other papers across the nation.

Many surviving copies of the book have multiple owner’s names written in the flyleaf, suggesting that some copies were passed around as recommended reading. Many of those who expected to serve in the trenches in Europe purchased copies of Over the Top and even wrote home from France recommending that their families read it.

For many Americans, the book was their window to the war as it was easily understood and enjoyed by a wide audience. It was certainly an important influence on public knowledge of trench warfare while the war raged on.

What makes Over the Top a unique book?

What is unique about this book?

It’s perspective and style is by far what makes Over the Top unique.

The Perspective

This book was the first of its kind which featured stories of the common Soldier’s life behind the lines and concentrated on the details of combat in the trenches. This was also Empey’s first book and, by far, the most successful. An estimated one million copies were printed from May 1917 through November 1918. Appearing in print within a month after America’s entering the war, Over the Top acquainted American readers with the training and combat experienced by “Tommy Atkins,” the common British Soldier. This offered readers a glimpse of what members of our own American Expeditionary Force might experience in this new Modern War.
Style

Over the Top is written in a humorous style by an artist who spent the rest of his life engaged in various forms of entertainment and self-promotion. It is an insider’s look at the “Tommies” of the British Army told in their slang by an American who served alongside them. Empey liberally spices up his text with the jargon of this industrial war and includes a thirty page “Tommy’s Glossary of the Trenches” at the end which should be read completely for an explanation and for a funny look at the life of the Soldier. Though the book offers great details, Empey considers his audience and entertains while he informs his readers—not every writer does, or can, do that.