Soldiering has one great trapTo be a good soldier you must love the army But to be a good officer you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love This isa very hard thing to do No other profession requires it That is one reason why there are so few good officers Although there are many good men Michael Schaara, The Killer Angels My friend overnighted this book to me when I told him I was joining the National Guard He told me to read it before making a decision He hoped that by reading it, I would be change my mind It didn't exactly happen like that; rather, when I finished, I felt kind of bad about myself, like I'd failed some ineffable duty Still, I didn't join the Guard, but not because of anything I've read In the end, it came down to the fact that the Guard's loan repayment plan is paltry, and I would've gone underwater on my debt while in training (There's also a better, funnier story about why I didn't join, which involves a long night at the bar and the Guard physical scheduled the next day, but I won't go into that) Nathaniel Fick went through with it, though He joined the Marines, via officer candidacy school, after graduating from Dartmouth This memoir tells of his journey from lesserIvy League (take that, Dartmouth!) English major to OCS to SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, escape) to Afghanistan to Iraq to home It does a good job of capturing the little details of soldiering, and highlighting the dichotomy between two very separate worlds: that of soldiers and civilians The subtitle of the book is The Making of a Marine Corps Officer This implies that the book provides some sort of template, which is just not the case Fick is unlike any soldier I've ever met and I've lived and been friends with my share of soldiers He brings to his experiences, and this memoir, a liberal sensitivity (with the requisite lethality, of course) that is missing in most military men He doesn't join the Marines out of monetary necessity, to pay for college, or because he doesn't have any other options He joined the Marines because he really believed in their ethos of duty, honor and country But he's not some ReaganeraRedDawnWatching2ndAmendmentGlorifyingWannabeGI Joe Rather, he seems to be a really smart guy with a finetuned sense of duty (and also, I think, a bit of intellectual curiosity about the military) When he enlists, in the faraway days of peace we knew in the late 90's, his father tells him that: The Marines will teach you everything I love you too much to teach you The book is divided into two main sections, Peace and War The first section is shorter, as Fick breezes through OCS and infantry training The second half of the book begins with the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks Fick goes to Afghanistan where, frankly, nothing much really happens He joins a Marine reconaissance batallion, and then is sent to Iraq This is where the bulk of the story takes place, as Fick and his recon platoon race towards Baghdad (coincidentally, Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright was embedded with Fick's platoon, codenamed Hitman 2, and he featured them in his book Generation Kill, making Hitman 2 the most writtenabout and televised group of soldiers since Easy Company of the 501st, who have been immortalized by Stephen Ambrose in Band of Brothers) Fick is a fine, easytoread writer He keeps things simple and informative, with a good memory for dialogue (or a good ear for making up dialogue) and a keen sense of telling details With his Dartmouth degree going to waste, he is fond of literary allusions He never gives any details of his personal life, save an offhand reference to a girlfriend, so he remains elusive as a person, and a blank slate as a narrator That doesn't stop him from giving his opinions, however Throughout the book, he peppers his story with his personal perspective on events For instance, after a visit to the site of the former World Trade Center (the socalled Ground Zero), he derides the empty patriotism of the SUVdrivingyellowbumperstickertheywon'tdestroyourwayoflife crowd During his time in Iraq, he is critical of the blunt instruments of modern warfare, which killed and injured the very civilian populace the American military was trying to liberate He also discretely chides his superiors, especially his captain, whom he pointedly does not mention by name It's true that every soldier fights a limited war The things Fick sees are his entire universe, and expand to fill his imagination, even though it is a much smaller part of the whole In other words, the sense of a soldier is that he is at the center of the war, when in fact, history may relegate him and his companions to the periphery.To be sure, Hitman 2 is not Ambrose's Band of Brothers These are not guys out saving the world They are not even seriously challenged (the story takes place during the initial invasion of Iraq, before IEDs and quagmires and the long, bloody summer of 2006) This is not to say Fick and his men weren't in danger, because they were, and they faced it bravely; however, he went to war with 65 men, and all of them came home alive Most of the time, the Iraqi Army does not put up much of a fight The most memorable incidents of this book take place outside of combat, such as when the platoon comes upon wounded children There is an especially harrowing scene when Fick's battalion commander, Major Benelli, refuses to evacuate a wounded girl Breaching his selfimposed rule about not naming names, Fick directly addresses his smirking commander: I felt impotent, but I wasn't powerless I had an assault rifle in my hands I could shoot the motherf****r I could hold him hostage until he called in that helicopter There is also a marvelous scene where Sergeant Colbert, hero of the HBO miniseries Generation Kill, cooly blows up an unexploded RGP round that had landed in a man's yard Though doing so was against orders, Fick realizes this is an instance to do some lasting good Though his men didn't fight any pitched battles, Fick does an especially good job describing modern combat, as in this scene where his men fire on a truck that refuses to stop at a checkpoint:In slow motion, I watch.50caliber tracers and Mark19 rounds arcing over the truck It closed the gap on the gunners faster than they could lower their guns For a second, I thought he'd run right into us The gunners corrected, and grenades exploded against the grille and windshield as armorpiercing incendiary machine gun rounds ripped the cab apartStill the truck rushed closerI jammed the rifle stock into my shoulder and flipped the selector level to 'burst'I aimed low, at the middle of the grille, knowing the shots would float upward toward the windshield The rifle stuttered, three little kicks at a time The end of the book finds Fick returning home and resigning so he can go to grad school (Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government, natch) It's a short, interesting, provocative section There is Fick swerving as he goes beneath underpasses, because in Iraq, grenades were often dropped from them There is Fick, answering questions from an admissions officer, who wanted to know about something he'd said that appeared in Rolling Stone (Do I feel compelled to explain myself to you? I don't) There is Fick taking a friend to Antietam, which gives him a chance to be ostentatiously rueful about his experiences, and subtly belittle the civvie who doesn't understand There is Fick getting pissed about people who thanked him for his service This section really calls to mind a fascinating and important questions about military and civilian roles in a democracy I've never served in the military Like I said, the closest I came was that National Guard recruiting office I respect what soldiers do; and I am also very wary of what they do Undue deference leads to bad policy, which should go without saying I grew a little wary of Fick's mindset, that of superior knowledge, which however natural and psychologically explicable, leads to a growing gulf between the military and the civilian population The wider the gulf, the worse the policy choices In college, I lived with a ROTC student, and I can't even count the number of times my former roomatenowArmylieutenant and I got into political debates Without fail, at some point in the argument (right around the time I had eviscerated him with my slashing logic) he'd riposte to the effect that: You have no right to say that about the Army because the Army has given you the right to say that It's a dangerous bit of selfindulgence on the part of the military to believe they are protecting or even giving us rights, thus giving them some control over them It smacks of praetorianism The last section of One Bullet Away shows that even the most enlightened, liberal thinker can fall prey to that reasoning That should be enough to give anyone pause. 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 afterand 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 twentytwo Marines into the deadliest conflict since Vietnam He vows to bring all his men home safely, and to do so he’ll need than his topflight education Fick unveils the process that makes Marine officers such legendary leaders and shares his hardwon insights into the differences between military ideals and military practice, which can mock those idealsIn 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 Splitsecond 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 As a retired Marine officer myself, I believe this may be the best job I've seen yet of getting inside the mind of a Marine leader Nathaniel Fick is smart, caring, conscientious, brave, and introspective Upon leaving the Corps he went to grad school with the goal of getting into politics, and I hope to hear his name a lot in the years to come he has muchto give our country.Incidentally, in another book titled Generation Kill, you can get the perspective of a reporter attached to Lt Fick's unit on his character and performance during the same period Fick writes about in One Bullet Away; he earned that writer's liking and respect too. One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer is a narrative on the military and war from an Ivy League liberal arts major With Lt Nathaniel Fick’s background in the classics, I was hoping for a mix of real experience and historical interpretation of his experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq He focuseson the experience and not on the wider view Still, it was a wellwritten account of joining the military and going to war from a segment of society that is muchfocused on getting rich on Wall Street or joining law firms to make a big killing than serving the nation Nate Fick’s background made himopen to military service and he joined at exactly the right time to be in the vanguard going to war after 9/11.I most enjoyed his descriptions of entering the military and his progress through basic and follow on training I’ve been through enlisted and officer basic training and his description of the purposeful craziness had me rolling on the floor One thing for sure, Marine training is probably the toughest around.In the middle of his first sea cruise, 9/11 occurs and his unit is sent to support the Afghanistan campaign He goes into Pakistan and then into the Kandahar area, supporting but not involved in any of the major actions Returning from Afghanistan, he is reassigned from command of an infantry platoon to a reconnaissance platoon, extending his opportunity to command at the “point of the spear” That is where he is when Iraqi Freedom occurs He takes us through the battles from Kuwait to Baghdad, concentrating on the daytoday operations No big picture on this war, just what he and his platoon went through It was interesting to see his perspective when he finds out his unit was the feint towards Baquoba for a move towards Baghdad It was a good strategic move but his view on risking his men’s lives for a fake attack was revealing After returning from Iraq, he leaves the military and gives a clear, simple description of PTSD and how it affected him.Nate Fick’s view of the Marine Corps is very positive as he looks down the chain at his enlisted force and is mostly negative as he looks up the chain I have known some excellent Marine officers and have not met the type of “tactical incompetents” he describes His high opinion of the enlisted force continues to the end, backed up with plenty of examples in combat This book is not so much about combat post 9/11 but about how tough it is to be in combat and stay alert, focused while observing all the rules of engagement 5 Stars for the pre 9/11 and 3 stars for the post 9/11, leaving me at the 4 Star level. Nate is one of my favorite characters in Generation Kill, so when I realized that he had written a book of his very own that treated on some of the same events, I snapped it up immediately I like Nate because he is an officer and a gentleman, a Dartmouth classics major who joined the Marine Corps in a fit of idealism, and one of only two competent officers portrayed in Generation Kill Why I love Nate can be best understood first hand.The rules of engagement harked back to my college classes on Saint Augustine and just war theory I couldn't control the justice of the declaration of war, but I could control the justice of its conduct within my tiny sphere of influence Doing right, I thought, wasn't only a moral imperative but also the most expedient way to lead the platoon This book is about Nate's journey from making the decision to join the Corps, through Afghanistan, the Basic Recon Course, and Iraq It is well worth reading as an excellent first person account of life in the modern military, but I think those who have read Generation Kill may find it most rewarding The discrepancies between the two accounts are fascinating Some can be explained simply by the way Fick isgentle with his fellow officers than Wright was inclined to behe never, for instance, calls out Captain America for his insane cowardicebut in some places the two stories are genuinely different As This was a terrific book As good as Generation Kill for me (Generation Kill having profiled Lt N Fick as one of the Platoon that Evan Wright embedded with) I would highly recommend that if the reader of this review has not read Generation Kill, then read it before or after reading One Bullet Away The two different perspectives were fascinating.What Generation Kill never touched on however, was how Lt Nathaniel Fick evolved The early days of his career His training, his deployment to Afghanistan, was, upon finishing this book, probablyinteresting to me than his time in Iraq 5 star book, Nathaniel Fick! I've read this book twice now and I have enjoyed it both times The author is very good at his narration, and is neither ultra gungho nor cynically going through the motions Mr Fick is a Marine; a thoughtful Marine and one whose sense of duty is deeply held and not the product of jingoism or testosterone laden hoorah culture.In short, I enjoyed the heck out of this book and would heartily recommend it There are plenty of books that delineate and define how the strategic battles of the Afghan and Iraq wars were lost (I'm looking at you Misters Rumsfeld and Franks), but few who put into perspective the squad level view on the ground of these conflicts. Nate Fick seems like a classy guy and this is a classy, classy book After graduating with a degree in Classics from Dartmouth, Fick joined the US Marine Corps as an officer candidate While his friends when to med school, law school or became “consultants” (as Fick points out, what exactly can a 22yearold consult on?), he became a peacetime officer who was abruptly thrust into wartime after September 11.After serving in Afghanistan, Fick joined the infamouslytough First Reconnaissance Battalion One of the book’s most powerful sequences involves Fick’s training to become the socalled ‘point of the Marines’ spear’ He deliberately marks down waterbased training as his last pick – and, of course, because a First Recon Marine must be trained to do exactly what he hates, he spends a couple of weeks being forced to perform tasks underwater or in stormy seas, until the fear of drowning is beaten out of him.The final part of Fick’s memoir, recounting his experience as a first lieutenant during the 2003 Iraq invasion, will be familiar to readers of Evan Wright’s Generation Kill Fick gives apersonallyfocused (andbalanced) account of what happened, which is, perhaps inevitably, less interesting.I enjoyed this book a lot – though I found the military experiences rather blended together, especially due to the sheer size of the book (hint: it’s long) I preferred Fick’spersonal and philosophical reflections to the raw action of the book, but that's probably just because I’minterested in people than warriors ;)The fact that Fick is a former Classics student gives the book a genuine lift Fick’s prose is always meditative and frequently beautiful That said, Fick remains carefully neutral on most political subjects, which makes for slightly frustrating reading – sometimes you just want Fick to stand up and give a candid opinion. An interesting book that for some reason did not quite gel with me After watching the T.V series Generation kill this book offered the story from a marines point of view While the book was an engaging read for me it lacked spark that makes a good book a great one. A direct and clearheaded account of one man's transformation from civilian to marine officer, layered alongside vivid descriptions of the tip of the spear's combat experience immediately post9/11 Fick's journey is in many ways unique; he's selected for one of the rarest occupational specialities in the marines (a rare feat in and of itself) months after graduation from Darmouth, not the usual pipeline for military careers Fick's closest friends were preparing for graduate school and consulting jobs while he was packing up for Quantico, and this disconnect alone makes his perspective on his journey unique Throughout the book, but especially in the early chapters, Fick reflects on the ostensible disjuncture between his background and his career interests This reflection is not selfpitying nor is it disparaging of the classmates, family, and friends whose reactions range from incomprehension and shock to bewildered but steadfast support Fick's ability to simply describe his consequential sense of cognitive dissonance as he straddles two very different worlds is admirable and refreshing, and his feelings of quiet solitude (but not alienation) ring true He doesn't attempt to draw any grand conclusions about the state of civilmilitary relations, but rather sticks to laying out his personal goals, struggles, values, and an examination of how all three change, conflict, and evolve Fick's thoughts on leadership are similarly simple, but powerful, as the actions he recounts prove their validity He describes how the marines under his command expected competence, courage, and consistency from their leaders Throughout the events described in the book, Fick meets these expectations and exceeds them, persistently noting we can't control the missions we get, only how we execute them Fick's ability to elevate others' needs over his own and to make difficult calls in the midst of chaos show how, especially in the Marine Corps' context of decentralized command, an individual's actions and values matter.