Don’t Make Him Angry

You Wouldn’t Like Him When He’s Angry

Okay. It turns out some folks like him when he’s angry. The Angry Staff Officer even made it to the Sweet 16 of Twitter Fight Club 15, losing to the eventual co-champ, based on his anger. One esteemed judge noted,

“I like my staff officers angry. If they’re not angry, they don’t understand the problem frame.”

Others, unfortunately, wanted more anger yet credited him with

“…groundbreaking, high-concept Twitter combat that separates your true Tweetfighter from your standard-issue, happy-to-be-here networker-by-other-means.”

When not engaged in open twitter combat, the Angry Staff Officer is writing for the Point of Decision, Strategy Bridge, Task & Purpose, and elsewhere. I caught up with him in during an operational pause to chat about his writing and reading routines and his aspirations for the Military Writers Guild.

[John DeRosa] What does the first hour of your day look like? What time do you typically wake up?

[Angry Staff Officer] First off, I hate mornings. Without coffee, I would not function as a normal human being who is able to interact with other humans within societal norms. Since my wife and I work in the same city with an hour commute, we are typically up at six. While she is getting ready, I usually take a glance at social media to see what’s new in the world and check email, although I have begun to view email as a secondary form of communication to Twitter, Slack, etc. During our commute, my wife and I usually try to catch up on the news via NPR, which will usually start an idea in my brain that I try to jot down when I get to work.

[JD] What are some of your daily routines?

[ASO] “Routine” is too strong a word. I am a staff officer during the day, meaning I’m split between different projects, jumping to put out fires, and bouncing from meeting to meeting. I try to workout prior to leaving work every day if nothing more than to jump-start my batteries. Luckily we have a Crossfit gym on the post so I can go torture myself for an hour or so. I eat lunch at my desk (standing stations rock, by the way) which allows me to stay on top of work, while also giving me the time to check blog posts or articles I’ve highlighted for follow-up. Staying on top of all the great writing that is coming out is tough, but I try to at least grab 3–6 articles to read per day. Evening is time for either doing some writing or housework, yardwork, etc. I have vowed to read at least a chapter a night, but I fail heavily. Twitter is probably my most regular routine; I rely on it for news and idea sharing. It really is a fantastic medium for debate.

[JD] How does your routine change on the weekend to decompress?

[ASO] Weekends are my time for catching up on both sleep and writing. That might be the time where I sit down to write out some of the ideas that I had during the week. My wife and I use that time to relax a bit, maybe go to brunch (the best meal of the day), and visit with family and friends. I am a huge proponent of grilling whenever possible. And, of course, you can’t grill without alcohol, so there is a reasonably good chance that I might be inspired to put some “inspired history” out on Twitter.

[JD] Describe your writing space.

[ASO] I have two types of writing spaces. One is my study, which is somewhat secluded unless my cat decides that it is time to occupy my lap. I set it up in the hopes that being in a place surrounded by books, art, and war memorabilia (have bits of uniforms from both grandfathers who served in WWII and my father who was in the Coast Guard) would get the creative juices flowing. However, I have found that I am an impulse writer. If I don’t have the impulse to write or an idea that seizes me, I can’t write. Which brings me to my other writing space: anywhere I happen to be. Could be sitting on the couch, in the kitchen, or even on my smartphone when I’m traveling. Ever since I started writing in high school, it has always been on a laptop. I tried switching to paper once or twice, but I didn’t like it. I like to keep a running outline or list of notes that change constantly, and a Word or Google document is far more intuitive for my style.

[JD] Describe your writing routine.

[ASO] I am a chaotic writer. It comes in fits and starts. I can go for a week or two not writing anything and then all of a sudden push out three or four pieces in a weekend, mercifully, my wife is a very understanding woman and allows for my bursts of creative insanity. I keep a running list of possible topics on Google Keep on my phone. During the day I run through possible ways I would go about tackling a project. Sometimes I develop an outline, sometimes it is a stream of consciousness. Depends on the topic. For writing in my field, history, I usually have a mix of electronic and book resources scattered about that I use for references as I write. These usually take up a lot more time, spanning days or weeks. Blog posts are usually written at one sitting, and I try to get someone else’s eyes on it before I publish. Hence why the Guild is great.

[JD] How do you determine what you are writing about?

[ASO] It varies. Sometimes, as with veteran issues or anything about the National Guard, it is something that I have an ongoing passion for and find it easy to find topics. I try to keep my brainstorming along the lines of, “How can I get people to think about this topic more?” Other times I will come up with an idea, throw it out on the Twittersphere, and see what people have to say. I really enjoy getting different perspectives that maybe I had not thought of. I also have a great bunch of followers on Twitter, who are constantly introducing new topics, whether they know it or not. I also get ideas from the people I work with; we have an open-concept office, and the dialogue goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. My idea for my piece on COIN in Star Wars came from a discussion in the DFAC about how the HiG were really just the Sand People.

[JD] What does your note taking system look like? How do you gather information for your writing?

[ASO] As I mentioned before, I love Google Keep and Google Documents. I really am that guy who has quaffed the Google kool-aid. Google Drive is fantastic for sharing documents amongst different groups of people as well as having a central source that I can access documents for editing when I am traveling. This accessibility is huge. My notes consist of bullet points (I am a staff officer after all) with key ideas that are either the question I ask to get a piece started or my thesis statement. But that’s really where the system stops and chaos theory begins. If I have an idea that is burning my brain, I sit down and write.

[JD] What are you reading lately?

[ASO] Right now I am reading a few different books. One on the war in the Pacific in WWII, a work on the National Guard on the border in 1916 (really a climactic event since the National Guard was just going through its transformation into the organization we know today), and Coker’s Men at War, which is an examination of works of fiction that deal with war. I just burned through a bunch of Terry Pratchett’s novels which are highly entertaining and engaging.

[JD] How do you find what to read?

[ASO] How do I NOT find out what to read might be a better question. I have a running list of history books as I try to stay abreast of all the new research coming out. I also have a list of recommended books from book reviews. I try to write as many book reviews as possible as it gives me the impetus to read more; I typically try to stay within my field of history. Typically, my Christmas list is 90% books, which I try to read throughout the year.

[JD] Is there a genre of reading you prefer?

[ASO] New history on the American colonial period (my MA area of emphasis) is fascinating. I also enjoy tactical summaries of engagements at the small-unit level. Recently, I’ve been on a World War I kick, running up to the centennial. As Americans, we tend to treat WWI as just another war we won, overlooking the intrigues of politics and the way that the war shaped American military strategy. Fiction, both historical and nonhistorical is really my weakness. Mark Helprin writes some incredibly well-researched historical fiction that also entwines the human element into a gripping story. Really, I just love a good story, which is why I love history.

[JD] What is the book you’re most likely to give as a gift or one you’ve given as a gift the most?

[ASO] That’s a tough one. I really love 1491 by Charles Mann, an incredible look at pre-Columbus America. I give that to my friends and family who are history minded. I’m also quite fond of Mark Helprin’s A Soldier in the Great War, which is about an Italian soldier in World War I, a topic that is not covered as much. The gift I’ve given most is Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens. It has that quirky British humor that I am susceptible to, as well as well-researched academic allusions that floor me with the giggles.

[JD] What’s your drink of choice?

[ASO] Do you even have to ask? Gin. A gin and tonic are how I prefer to end my day. Not only is it delicious, but it ensures that I am protected from malaria and scurvy. One can never be too careful. Some of my best writing has come from gin; whiskey produces belligerent writing while beer slows my brain down too much. Gin is the perfect spur for my creative juices.

[JD] Where’s the most adventurous place(s) you have been?

[ASO] I am lucky (or unlucky) in that Afghanistan while adventurous, did not meet the criteria for adventure that this question demands. I would have to say that my trip to Bosnia when studying abroad in college was the most adventurous. There’s nothing like waking up in a bus at 0300, looking out the window, and seeing a bunch of shot-up buildings and a sign that says, “Sarajevo.” Or hiking a mountain and telling the people I was with that no, those aren’t fireworks, those are mortars, and those zippy things in the distance are tracers.

[JD] What bold steps would you like to see the MWG take?

[ASO] Asking an engineer officer for a bold step is dangerous: we tend to overanalyze all information and then come back with a bunch of deliberate decisions, most involving either excavators or explosives. First of all, I think that just establishing the MWG was a bold step in and of itself. I have encountered a lot of hostility to writing within the ranks of the military and seeing a group of leaders set something like this up has been incredibly refreshing. I would love to see the Guild expand to take on more members and become a clearing house, so to speak, of military writing talent. For writers who are just starting out like myself, watching the professionals in action has been a great spur. While having our own publication has been debated, I honestly think that having a quarterly published journal highlighting members’ work would be advantageous for spreading the word and gaining additional credibility. It would be a big step in developing our brand, so to speak.

Follow the Angry Staff Officer, John, and the Military Writers Guild on twitter. Cheers!

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