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One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer
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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.

Customer Reviews:

  • The Meaning of Leadership
    One Bullet Away is all about successful leadership. Fick brought his men back home in one piece and without any dissent among them. He made almost no enemies during his service (except for an idiot Captain whom everyone hated).

    I was curious to know how a college grad with no experience could lead a crew of seasoned combatants, some of whom were twice his age. In the photos he looks like an investment banker in a uniform, not a Marine. Fick leads by respecting the skills of his subordinates and by not trying to be a hero. There are several scenes in the book where he avoids hazardous situations that could get his men killed. For instance, he calls off a patrol rather than get stuck between two opposing sides, and refuses to search a possible weapons dump because the sun is going down. He knows when to quit, when to engage, and when to avoid hazards.

    In some ways Fick was lucky. He got to lead dedicated professionals who were responsible and reliable and didn't bicker. If you read "How Race is Lived in America", you'll see how some Platoons have internal strife, and that ruins everything. Fick was clearly fortunate to have gotten along well with his men.

    Perhaps the best way to lead is to just let people do their jobs without interference (provided they produce results)....more info
  • The single best book about Marine officers in modern war
    Captain Fick has done the Corps and the American public a great service with this insightful and well written book. In it, he explores what it means to be a platoon commander, responsible for many young lives while leading them into battle. Fick does not hold back in either detail or in exploring his own emotions, giving the reader the best possible sense of what it is like to be a small unit leader in the US Marine Corps.

    Fick begins by detailing the process of becoming a Marine officer: Officer Candidate School, The Basic School, and the Infantry Officer's Course. He discusses the difficult and often frustrating training that he is put through, and the resulting transformation that he undergoes from young man into lean, tough Marine.

    Then, through the lens of his deployments to Afghanistan with the 1st Marines and Iraq with 2nd Recon, he gives the reader a firsthand sense of the boredom, fear, and excitement of combat, the pride in seeing his platoons perform well in the most dangerous situations, and the incredible frustration at being led by weak and incompetent officers.

    One Bullet Away, together with Generation Kill, the companion book written by Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright about young enlisted Marines in the same Recon platoon, is easily the best book available on the first part of the war in Iraq. It does not give a clear picture of the overall strategy or the way that the war played out on a macro-level. It is not intended to. Rather, One Bullet Away is meant to put the reader into the mind of a young Marine officer at war. For its ability to give the reader a sense of the lives of individual Marines on the ground in combat, this book is unsurpassed. ...more info
  • One Bullet Away
    Dear Amazon:

    I am a WW2 veteran and I have many books about various segments of that war. Most of them are very good and inform and transport me back to that era. "One Bullet Away" is my first book on the Afganistan/Iraq conflict and the author is eqaually as fine a writer as the authors of the many WW2 books in my library.

    I have purchased books and music from Amazon and I have nothing but praise for your service and product.

    Herman C. Carlson...more info
  • Great book on leadership
    Fick describes his training and experiences in combat with One Bullet Away. He, as the reluctant warrior, provides insight into his transformation from college student to Marine Officer. This book is a great read for anyone interested in military history and modern leadership....more info
  • Easy To See Why This Is Required Reading
    After graduating from Dartmouth in 1999 with a degree in Classics and Government, Fick decided to join the Marines as an officer. Fick had been most impressed in that the Marines offered him not "benefits," as the other branches of service had, but only spoke of "duty," "honor," and "service to country" as reasons to join. He was hooked.

    As with all Americans, Fick remembers where he was on September 11, 2001. In his case, he was on board a ship in the Pacific. Fick recounts how he was with some of the first units sent to Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. After his return, he was posted to a reconnaissance unit. It was with this unit that Fick spearheaded the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Fick likes to repeat in public where a man in his unit, a former car repo man, called the invasion "a three-week drive-by shooting."

    During the presentation I saw, Fick was asked how his book was published. He explained that when he came back from Iraq he simply decided to write his experiences down as something to hand down to his own children and grandchildren. He then decided to try and publish his memoir, making two dozen copies and sending them off to publishers without an agent. Only two sent back a reply--both rejections--but one suggested an agent. Fick contacted that person, who told him how to rewrite the book. His book was accepted and now is virtually required reading by the Marine Corps.

    Asked about the future for American forces in Iraq, Fick believed that the strategy (when I saw him in 2006) of protecting the borders was correct.

    There is also a serious issue with culture and how troops deal with it, as recounted in the book. Fick told how his unit was at first welcomed by an Iraqi village. He then noted that the villagers were stand-offish and did not seem too happy with the Marines in the village. When he asked what the problem was, the Iraqis stated they were sure the Marines were able to "look at their women" through their sunglasses. Fick then gave his to the man to look through. "Do you know what the Iraqi said to me?" Fick stated. "How do you turn these glasses on?" The only solution was for the Marines not to wear sunglasses, which eased the tensions in the village.

    One aspect in the book that was not known to me was the Sharwarnas. This was a tribe of older men who had fought in the Iraq-Iran War and were in their forties. They fought with the Marines and Fick found them enjoyable. They have been in the news recently, as the Shias are now refusing to work with them.

    I also asked Fick after the lecture about his stories about Mish, the Kuwati translator. He just shook his head in disgust. Throughout the book you can see that Mish just can't be controlled; there is even a photo in the book of Mish extorting cigarrettes from an Iraq car. I told Fick about our translator in Vietnam being arrested as a Viet Cong agent. She had been recommended by a very well-connected female operator, nicknamed "Tiger," who was the darling of the American generals. I met her a number of times, people claimed she was "cute," but she was just not my type. Fick said such problems required that an American linguist had to be present at some level as a sort of supervisor.

    Fick left the Marines a captain in 2003. He is currently enrolled at Harvard, pursuing an MBA at the Harvard Business School after having received his MA in International Security Policy at Harvard's John F Kennedy School of Government. I am sure we will be hearing more from Mr. Fick in the future....more info
  • A truth-teller
    I couldn't put this book down. It gives a fascinating account of Fick's progression through his career to become a Recon platoon leader. More importantly it shows his development as a combat leader and as a thoughtful professional. Exceptionally well written....more info
    One Bullet Away is a good readable account of what daily life is really like for a Marine Officer in a combat zone.

    Although slow to start with, the book gradually builds with pace and interest telling the story of Fick's combat experience in both Afghanistan and Iraq - which makes for a good read.

    I particularly liked his honesty in telling the truth about his military failures and how he battled to overcome the daily friction of combat.

    All in all, a good read....more info
  • Great Book
    This is one of the best books I've ever read. It is a comprehensive and incredibly well written account of one lieutenants experiences in the Marines. Melding into his narrative a fascinating world view and bits of introspection, Fick has written an instant classic. I've reread the book 4 times now....more info
  • Well written book that goes the extra mile.
    The stories that get someone to a particular point or event in their lives are many times as important as the moment itself. Here is where Mr. Fick excels brilliantly, as he recounts to us the set of events that led him to this odd choice of work. Think about it he not only chose to become an infantry officer but rather went a step further and joined Marine Recon. Decisions like this aren't made lightly and are in essence a reflection of the complexity of the person who makes them. He shows this complexity in motion when he recounts the painful decisions that he had to make. He made the tough calls and put himself out on the ledge and I for one am glad that he was able to show how as Marines, we are not mindless imbeciles. We feel pain for all the others that suffer in this world needlessly as well. I am also in closing impressed by his depiction of his struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Blessings be onto all those that go through such tribulations and hopefully they in the end make the world a bit better for all of us. ...more info
  • A sandwich with great bread and bland meat
    Bottomline up Front: Author held back making this a disappointing book that had the potential to be great!

    I had a lot of hope for this book, me being of somewhat a similar background, same age, same upper-middle class back ground, while also a military officer, however this book did'nt deliever and infact at the end I found it very disappointing.

    The beginning of the book was great, i would give it a solid 4-5 stars, when he is talking about going through the Marine Corps OCS and how his view on life changed after going through that. That should be a required read for anyone thinking of trying to become an officer, having been through combat I found much of his commentary on being an officer and what it takes to be an officer, resoundingly true and accurate.

    The book started going downhill on his commentary about War. I don't need to get into it too much other than to say it was bland and boring, his views of Afganistan were okay, but when it came to Iraq, I found I was longing more.

    One of the reasons I picked up this book was that I had read Generation Kill a few times, and though I loved that book I figured some of the commentary provided by Evan Wright was skewed because he was with the younger NCOs/PFCs and did'nt have all the facts surrounding the orders that were given. Though Fick says in both books that the heart of the Marines is the NCO corps I was longing to understand better some of the overall rational behind the orders that were given.

    Instead, Fick glosses over many of the major mistakes that Wright points out, I'm assuming since this came out after Generation Kill that Fick was somehow trying to protect those officers that made the mistakes. I was getting to a point where I thought that Wright perceptions were wrong, then in the final part of the book where it talks about the CO leading PT and the Company's response, it was clear that Fick had covered alot of what happened up to "protect the innocent."

    Let me be clear, the book was an good read, I just found myself thinking that Fick did a dis-service to any young person/enlisted troop that wants to be an officer someday. Instead of pointing out some of the flaws in the decision making of the supierior officers he instead glosses over those facts and makes it seem like it's a big deal. You could tell at times that Fick was holding back on what happened during a particular sitation. This could have been a book that would be required reading for any of my young Lts or Cadets that I meet in stead I'm going to tell them to read the first back and be done with it.

    The final 15-20 pages or so were a good overall commentary on the war and why he got out. Once again, i felt he was holding back, but it at least ends on a plus note.

    Final thought, if your interested in this book/time period in Iraq, I would first read this book and then Generation Kill, it will shed light on alot of the issues Fick just touches on. ...more info
  • One Bullet Away
    I am enjoying reading this book. It is very informative as to the making of a Marine officer. ...more info
  • From scholar to Marine, a memoir
    There is a great divide in America between those in the military and those who are not. Nowhere is that divide more total than in the elite universities, where virtually no one knows anyone in the military or has any sympathy for it. This book is a very rare bridge between those two worlds. Fick graduated from Dartmouth in 1998, became an elite Marine officer, fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and then went back to graduate school. This is his memoir.

    The primary subject of the book is the training that a Marine officer goes through, the transformation from an ordinary person into a warrior. It is extremely well written. The pace is relatively slow, and the reader is able to go along with Fick on his emotional journey from Ivy League student to Marine officer.

    Fick happened to finish his training as an officer, just as 9/11 was happening. He thus jointed the military, when we were still at peace, and was a very junior officer, just as the war was starting. He gives an excellent account of some of the early fighting -- and early mistakes -- in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was rotated out of Iraq, just after Saddam fell, however, so his account is limited to the early war, before the counter-insurgency started. In short, a very valuable, well worth reading for many reasons, but very out of date, for those wanting to understand the Iraq War....more info
  • Very good....
    Having always been interested in the military, especially the Marine Corps, I thought that this book would be interesting. It gives a very realistic first hand look at a Dartmouth College graduate that decided to go through Officers Candidates School to become a Marine 2nd Lieutenant. Upon completing OCS, he then embarked on deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq before leaving the Marines. This book gives one a good understanding of real combat and real combat decisions, both good and bad. It shows how our military leaders still make mistakes and how the strong bonds form between members of a platoon that have endured the hardships of combat together. I enjoyed this book very much....more info
  • A definate read for Generation Kill fans
    If you like Generation Kill, then this is a must read. It shows another perspective of the entire war, plus how Lt. Fick came to be. Expertly written, and easy to follow (even for us Former Marines). A definate must read. ...more info
  • On Target
    This is a great read for those concerned with how we train our Marine Corps officers. An added bonus: an inside view on the early US incursion in Afghanistan and how we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the early days in Bagdad. I've bought at least a dozen copies for interested friends. ...more info
  • Decent, but not great
    I bought this book after reading the first chapter online. In it, he describes the Marine Corps' Officer Candidates' School with unerring accuracy. I've been there, and his descriptions of it are dead-on and bring back many memories. However, I can't remember any of the book past that.

    For a memoir, I didn't learn much about the author. He went to Dartmouth. Then he went to war. Then he came home. Finally he wrote a book. And what a book it was: it's average. There are books that stand up head-and-shoulders above the rest, like "Generation Kill" and "Jarhead"

    Say what you will about "Jarhead", but the story was compelling and the narrative engrossing. Jarhead's like a secret dish: some like it, some think it's too spicy, etc. "One Bullet Away" is more like vanilla ice cream. Filling and good-testing, but it won't stick in your mind. It takes a middle-of-the-road position on just about everything, and the author doesn't seem to have very many opinions about what he did....more info
  • Good, but
    Very well written and totally honest, which wasn't always the case with the writings of earlier wars.

    The thing is though, not much happens. Thus, if you liked the movie Jarhead with its focon on the banality of war, you should like this one. I need more. Don't get me wrong, it's just that I prefer the more unique stories of any conflict. Ambush Alley for example has a lot more going for it storywise, although Fick is a much better writer....more info
  • Book Review: One Bullet Away
    One Bullet Away is Fick's memoir of his time after joining the Marine Corp in the summer of 1998 up through 9/11 his units deployment to Afghanistan and then Iraq.

    If you ever wanted to know what it takes to be a leader, Fick tells you in no uncertain terms. It isn't candy coated or prettied up, he is honest and straightforward. Qualities it takes to be a truly effective leader. As he finds out on the first day: "Honor, courage, and commitment are the Marines' core values. [...] If you can't be honest at OCS, how can the Corps trust you to lead men in combat?"

    And lead men Captain Fick does, as a Weapon's Platoon Lieutenant on his first day in the Fleets and into Afghanistan after 9/11 and then in Recon where he leads his men into Iraq on invasion day. Fick's accounts are gritty and honest. You can feel the frustration that only military life can bring out in someone and at the same time you can feel the immense pride that comes with accomplishing something important.

    In the end, Fick leaves the Corp he feels he was destined to belong to and concludes:

    In June, one year after coming home from Iraq, I dragged a childhood friend to the Civil War battlefield in Antietam in western Maryland. I wanted to walk the ground. Among the split-rail fences and restored cannons, I saw RPGs and fedayeen. Where would I have put my machine guns to defend the Cornfield? How would Hitman two have assaulted the Bloody Lane?

    The sun was warm on my arms, and bees buzzed through the tall grass as we meandered towards Burnside Bridge. There, on the afternoon of America's bloodiest day, troops made three unsuccessful attempts to cross Antietam Creek under withering fire. We stood at the center of the span with our hands on the stones.

    "Was it a waste?" I asked.

    "No," she replied. "They won, and Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. They freed the slaves, the way you freed the Afghans."

    I didn't answer.

    "Think about the women under the Taliban and the poor Iraqis under Saddam," she continued seizing a chance to change the subject. "You helped do so much good for so many people. Why can't you take comfort in that?"

    Staring down at the water, I measured my words, running through a justification I'd given myself a thousand times before. The good was abstract. The good didn't feel as good as the bad felt bad. It wasn't the good that kept me up at night.

    "You sound so unprincipled," she said, shaking her head. "Why can't you find peace in what you and your men sacrificed so much to do? Why can't you be proud?"

    I took sixty-five men to war and brought sixty-four home. I gave them everything I had. Together, we passed the test. Fear didn't beat us. I hope life improves for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, but that's not why we did it. We fought for each other.

    I am proud.

    And proud you should be Captain Fick.

    ...more info
  • An honest look at a soldier's life
    This is an excellent book for anyone who knows someone who has served, or for those wanting an honest look into Iraq and Afghanistan. Fick does an excellent job explaining not only what happened, but the thoughts and feelings. The book provides a real parallel to the training experiences described in Starship Troopers. It gave me a great new perspective on while Iraq hasn't gone as planned also....more info
  • Outstanding
    A very good book. Hats off to Fick and all the men and women serving in our military....more info
  • Excellent Reading!
    I'm thankful that this was an assigned book for a college class. Very enjoyable, even for the causal reader! Met Nathaniel Fick, great guy, powerful speaker, extremely knowledgeable in the content of foreign affair matters. ...more info
  • "No BS, sir. Marines appreciate that."
    There's little more I can add to what other reviewers have already said of Nate Fick's One Bullet Away. All I can say is that, of the scores of military novels, memoirs, and histories that I've read over the years, One Bullet Away is one of the best, if not the best. Fick combines obviously well-read literacy, a sharp mind, and the thrills and action of the best fictional novels into a compelling meditation on leadership in the modern military. I came away from this book not only more informed about the boots-on-the-ground experience of the Iraq War, but wanting to be a better person and a stronger leader.

    Highly recommended....more info