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One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine…

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer (2005)

by Nathaniel Fick

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Nathaniel Fick decided while he was in college that he was going to join the Marines. He served as an Infantry Officer and later as a Recon Marine. During that time, he saw a good chunk of what the world had to offer, both good and bad. One Bullet Away is Fick’s account of the things he faced during those years.

I first became aware of Nathaniel Fick’s story when I read Generation Kill by Evan Wright a few years back. While I enjoyed Wright’s book, I have a different appreciation for One Bullet Away because of the different perspective. To read the account of someone who actually trained and served and couldn’t just go home after spending a while in a war zone is rather humbling.

One of the major pluses for One Bullet Away is the amount of ground that Fick covers. By that I mean that it’s not just a story about the gruesome aspects of war. Fick talks a lot about how he made the decision to join the Marines, what he went through in order to join, and the training he had to go through once he did get in and how that helped him to become the person he is. In addition, he mentions coming home from war and what it’s like adapting to civilian life again. He also discusses his decision to leave the Corps – how he went from believing the Corps would be his career to realizing that he needed to get out. He talks about all of this, and war, in such an honest and personal manner that it’s hard not to be captivated by his story.

In One Bullet Away Fick isn’t afraid to be candid about all things. He talks about himself, his feelings, his feelings about others and how things were done in a very straightforward manner. One Bullet Away is well written and easy to read. I didn’t want to put it down when I read it because I was so hooked by his story.

Bottom line, I honestly don’t have a bad thing to say about this book. People who serve in the armed forces endure a lot of things and that holds true for Nathaniel Fick and the men and women he served with. Definitely a great read. ( )
  amongstories | Jun 7, 2013 |
Outstanding memoir by a young Marine lieutentant who led a platoon in Afghanistan and Iraq. Vivid, thoughtful and provocative. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |

In his memoir One Bullet Away, Nate Fick shares his story of joining the Marine Corps as an officer, and deploying just before the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Fick's story, told in ways that are both too glib and too frank, confuses the hell out of me.

I understand the call to serve. I understand the frustration that clearly mounts as he is thrust into war zones, in Afghanistan and again in Iraq, that his training did not fully prepare him for by commanders more interested in jockeying for promotion than in the safety of Fick's platoon.

But I don't understand who Fick was writing for. Who does he think will love his book?

Fick starts off with a glorification of war, of the Marines, of martial life that is, to me, off-putting. "The grunt life was untainted," he writes. "Being a Marine... was a rite of passage in a society becoming so soft and homogenized that the very concept was often sneered at." I could spend all day trying to unpack what Fick means by "soft," but I think the quote shares the flavor of the opening chapters, and the hard-soft motif resurfaces throughout the memoir's nearly 400 pages.

Fick handles death lightly. All of his platoon members survive his tour in Iraq, though some are wounded or killed later. The people who die are enemies, othered, and largely nondescript. Threats among the Marines to kill each other if they screw up, as Fick does when one of his men offers to blow an undetonated bomb, are common. But the story lacks the grittiness, the nastiness of military memoirs that have lately been turned into successful movies.

But as much as Fick loves the Marines, his platoon, his life as a soldier, he ultimately leaves the Corps because of its seemingly mindless bureaucracy. He leaves because he can't imagine putting himself back in harms way if he is surrounded by the kind of people he served his first Iraq deployment with- the idiots who drive down every road with guns blazing, endangering allies and civilians, or the ladder climbing fools who want to call in air support strikes simply become another company had called one earlier. So the book is not written, I think, for the military enthusiast.

Fick makes a compelling case for the re-assessment of American readiness. "I was noticing a trend in my career: train to lead a rifle platoon, but get a weapons platoon; train to raid the coastline in rubber boats, but go to war in a landlocked country; train to jump into patrols via parachute, but use boots or Humvees in the real world." Fick chooses to see this train for Plan A, fight with Plan B as "a tribute to flexibility," but given the dysfunction evident throughout his dealings with military command, it smacks of mismanagement. ( )
1 vote jscape2000 | Jan 4, 2013 |
In sharp contrast to Buzzell’s Gen X rock and roll version of war, Fick is a red blooded dude who joined the Marine Corps so he could struggle his way into the toughest jobs inside an already tough organization. This is red meat for those who served, and well-written enough to carry along everyone else. The story covers Fick’s training, and takes the reader through the early days of the March 2003 invasion. Elements of distrust, signs of poor leadership and acts of laziness that cause Fick to question the value of what he was doing at times read better knowing how hard it was for the author to admit the ideals he ascribed to his organization were not always upheld by all of its members.
  PeterVanBuren | Apr 7, 2011 |
(posted on my blog: davenichols.net)

US Marine Corps officer Nathaniel Fick's memoir describes his experiences in Marine Corps OCS, the War in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. As a Lieutenant, Fick was a lower-grade officer who saw a great deal of front line action, especially while commanding a platoon in Bravo Company, First Force Recon as part of the tip of the spear during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. His memoir is very well written and provides a key insight into the positives and negatives of fighting wars within the Marine Corps command chain.

Fick decided to join the Marines in order to test himself, and enlists in OCS prior to his senior year at Columbia. After completing his training, he finished school before officially joining the Corps and heading off for training which included a variety of tough tests, including SERE training.

Fick was shipping off for his first international deployment when September 11 took place, and while at sea, his unit got orders to prepare for the invasion of Afghanistan. He took part in a few missions in that theater before being offered a chance to join the elite Recon Marines.

As part of First Force Recon, Fick led his platoon across the berms and into Iraq during the invasion, and was often involved in heavy firefights. Fick, an intelligent and tactically-aware commander, often chaffed under the rigid Marine Corps command structure and openly challenged his CO a couple of times when the orders were clearly wrongheaded. His attitude was not necessarily acceptable to his commanders, and once or twice nearly caused him to be punished, but his men knew they had a strong leader looking out for them and ensuring their ability to accomplish the mission was never compromised.

Fick's insights into the early days of the way, and especially the ways in which the strategies played out, open a unique view of the seeds planted which later turned into a full-blown insurgency. An easy read from start-to-finish, One Bullet Away is a solid addition to the shelves of any military reader, along with Generation Kill, journalist Evan Wright's book (and HBO miniseries) which saw Wright embedded in Fick's platoon. Four stars. ( )
1 vote IslandDave | Dec 2, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nathaniel Fickprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Paris, AndyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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We should remember that one man is much the same as another, and that he is best who is trained in the severest school. -- Thucydides
Archidamus gave a great defeat to the Arcadians, in the fight known by the name of the Tearless Battle, in which there was a great slaughter of the enemy without the loss of one Spartan... The old me and the women marched out as far as the river Eurotas, lifting up their hands, and thanking the gods that Sparta was now cleared again of the disgrace and indignity that had befallen her, and once more saw the light of day. -- Plutarch
Anyone who looks with anguish on evils so great must acknowledge the tragedy of it all; and if anyone experiences them without anguish, his condition is even more tragic, since he remains serene by losing his humanity. -- Augustine of Hippo
Bravo Company, First Reconnaissance Battalion, First Marine Division. Killed in Action 7 April 2004. Al Anbar Province, Iraq
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Fifteen of us climbed aboard the ancient white school bus.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618773436, Paperback)

If the Marines are “the few, the proud,” Recon Marines are the fewest and the proudest. Nathaniel Fick’s career begins with a hellish summer at Quantico, after his junior year at Dartmouth. He leads a platoon in Afghanistan just after 9/11 and advances to the pinnacle—Recon— two years later, on the eve of war with Iraq. His vast skill set puts him in front of the front lines, leading twenty-two Marines into the deadliest conflict since Vietnam. He vows to bring all his men home safely, and to do so he’ll need more than his top-flight education. Fick unveils the process that makes Marine officers such legendary leaders and shares his hard-won insights into the differences between military ideals and military practice, which can mock those ideals.

In this deeply thoughtful account of what it’s like to fight on today’s front lines, Fick reveals the crushing pressure on young leaders in combat. Split-second decisions might have national consequences or horrible immediate repercussions, but hesitation isn’t an option. One Bullet Away never shrinks from blunt truths, but ultimately it is an inspiring account of mastering the art of war.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:04 -0400)

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A former captain in the Marines' First Recon Battalion, who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, reveals how the Corps trains its elite and offers a point-blank account of twenty-first-century battle. Only one Marine in a hundred qualifies for Recon, charged with working clandestinely, often behind enemy lines. Fick's training begins with a hellish summer at Quantico, and advances to the pinnacle--Recon--four years later, on the eve of war with Iraq. Along the way, he learns to shoot a man a mile away, stays awake for seventy-two hours straight, endures interrogation and torture, learns to swim with Navy SEALs, and much more. His vast skill set puts him in front of the front lines. Fick unveils the process that makes Marine officers such legendary leaders and shares his hard-won insights into the differences between the military ideals he learned and military practice, which can mock those ideals.… (more)

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