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 focuses more on the experience and not on the wider view. Still, it was a well-written account of joining the military and going to war from a segment of society that is much more focused on getting rich on Wall Street or joining law firms to make a big killing than serving the nation. Nate Fick’s background made him more open 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 day-to-day 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.