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Rogues & Remarkable Women

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer by Nathaniel C. Fick


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Also by Nathaniel C. Fick:

One Bullet Away, September 2006
Trade Size (reprint)
One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, October 2005

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer
Nathaniel C. Fick

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.

Houghton Mifflin
October 2005
Featuring: Nathaniel Fick
384 pages
ISBN: 0618556133
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Non-Fiction Memoir

If the Marines are "the few, the proud," Recon Marines are the fewest and the proudest. 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, after his junior year at Dartmouth, 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 at the secretive SERE course, learns to swim with Navy SEALs, masters the Eleven Principles of Leadership, and much more.

His vast skill set puts him in front of the front lines, leading twenty-two Marines into the deadliest conflict since Vietnam. He vows he will bring all his men home safely, and to do so he'll need more than his top-flight education. He'll need luck and an increasingly clear vision of the limitations of his superiors and the missions they assign him. 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. One Bullet Away never shrinks from blunt truths, but it is an ultimately inspiring account of mastering the art of war.

From the author

Always Remember

By Nathaniel C. Fick
Author of One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

I didn’t intend to write a book. My second combat tour after 9/11 ended on June 3, 2003, when I stepped off a plane in San Diego and into the arms of my waiting family. All I wanted was to put Iraq behind me. That night, over an awkward dinner, my mother asked the inevitable, impossible question. "So, how was the war?"

"Fine," I answered.

Where to start? I couldn’t talk about my wounded friends without choking up, couldn’t remember our dead enemies without turning sullen, and couldn’t explain that all of this, in context, had somehow been fun. So I didn’t talk about it.

But stories untold are corrosive. They simmer, and sometimes spill over. I didn’t sleep at night, couldn’t stay awake during the day, and failed to understand when long-time friends treated me like a stranger.

I started to write. In the beginning, I only wanted to put the stories on paper before they faded from memory. Reading my battle maps and patrol logbooks in the safety of a Washington apartment was a visceral experience. As desert sand spilled from the creases of folded papers, I stood on a bridge in Muwaffiqiya, with tracers slicing through the dark. A bloody handprint yanked me back to a disastrous mission in a town called Qalat Sukkar. It was raw and immediate, and my words poured onto the page.

The stories could do what I could not: explain to my family and friends why the kid who went to Afghanistan was not the man who returned from Iraq. I wrote all the things I couldn’t say over dinner, the whole web of pride and sorrow that made my war so much more than "fine."

As I wrote through the spring and summer of 2004, my platoon returned to Iraq for another tour. On April 7th, a Wednesday, my replacement died in a firefight near Ramadi. Maybe, I thought, these stories could give a voice to those without one. Maybe any soldier or Marine could hand them to a father or a wife or a roommate and say, "Here, if you want to know what it’s like over there, read this."

I kept writing, and went back to school to get a master’s degree in international security policy at Harvard. I spent each day surrounded by people interested in public policy, people who should have been debating and evaluating and remembering the war in Iraq. But they weren’t. It didn’t touch them.

Pro-war. Anti-war. War for freedom. War for oil. The politics were a luxury I couldn’t afford. I got along with neoconservatives and anti-war protestors alike. The people who confounded me were the apathetic middle, the thoughtless souls who sauntered through their days without remembering the 180,000 Americans fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was ashamed sometimes, while caught up in my comfortable academic life, to find myself one of them.

I wrote this book for myself, but I published it for others. It isn’t political, because the daily life of a soldier or Marine isn’t political. That life is dirty and dangerous and tragic and noble. I hope "One Bullet Away" evokes the emotion and humanity of combat service. I hope it prompts more questions than it answers.

Media Buzz

NewsHour with Jim Lehrer - March 24, 2006
NewsHour with Jim Lehrer - November 11, 2005
Lou Dobbs Tonight - September 20, 2005


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