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on 6 July 2007
Nate Fick decided to join the USMC from an ivy league college in New England, not traditionally the Corps biggest recruiting area. Moreover, he did so after attending a lecture by a journalist who praised the unit so we are not dealing with ignoramous, but instead an intelligent man. His timing meant he served in Afghanistan in Nov 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

I bought this book as I had read "Generation Kill" by Evan Wright and enjoyed it immensly. Fick was the platoon commander that journalist Wright was embedded with during the invasion of Iraq and Wright spoke well of him. There are a myriad of combat memoirs available now and I am somewhat cynical of many of them. However, based on the high praise of a neutral, I gave this book a go and was glad of it.

He paints a vivid picture of trying to lead men against an uncertain enemy, living with the reality that they sometimes shoot the wrong people and trying to do the best in tough circumstances. What stood out most for me was his opinions of his superiors, which are generally not favourable (and shared by Wright incidently). He is outraged at the indifference of his superiors to the death of innocents and their apparant delight of the war for the promotion opportunities it brings.

He is also very open and frank about the fear he felt in combat and thankfully steers away from any chest beating or self agrandisment, which makes the book a better read.

His opinions on the war would have carried some weight but, perhaps wisely, he gives none, preferring to stick to the story rather than the politics. The book and his attitudes to the situation are summed up in an incident he reacalls at the end while he is applying for places on post grad courses shortly before discharge. The admissions secretary of a major institution asks him to explain some comments attributed to him in Wright's book where he displays an apparent bloodlust. He sees no reason to explain himself to one who has not seen combat, merely saying he does not enjoy killing. For me this passage neatly described the book quite well. Clearly a devoted leader trying to do his best by his men who is at ease with the knowledge he did the best he could.

Given he now has a Harvard MA to go with his fine combat record, it would not surprise me if we see him scouted by politicians in future. While I suspect Fick would view this with some distaste, at least he has enough expereince of war not to delight in it.

In some ways the same story as Generation Kill but written without as much swearing or Jennifer Lopez references but a fine memoir of combat leadership nonetheless.
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on 3 November 2006
Nate Fick book on the making of a Marine Officer [and un-making since he has now left the USMC] charts the career of a young man in the Corps from pre 9/11 through the build up for Afghanistan and Iraq and the subsequent wars that follow.

This book is well written and Fick is obviously an intelligent man, it is also most striking in its difference to how Britain viewed these operations and how American sees them. If the British and American are a common people divided by a common language then we have never been more divided in how we see the operations in the Middle East.

US sees itself at war[2001-03], and 9/11 as another Pearl Harbour, and Nate brings this home with some thoughtful observations, such as how many Rifle Platoon Commanders in the USMC serving in 1941 where still alive in 1945, probably not many.

Fick moves through his basic training and gives a good insight into how the USMC turns out its low level command, if the US Military is the new Prussian Army [see BAR 139 Spring 2006] then the USMC is the Imperial Guard, with its traditions and ethos based on our own Royal Marines, but with the usual heavy slice of American Gung Ho, however the USMC does produce some very capable men as this book proves, can we learn something from the USMC possibly.

Anyone with an interest in the last two wars in the Middle East will find this an interesting read, especially those on Op Telic 1 [and in 1 PARA like myself in particular, since the cancelled operation onto Qalat Sukkar airfield is covered in detail. Oh what might have been!] If there is a criticism of this book it's the lack of detailed maps and glossary of USMC terms, if you are in the military you should have no problem although your average civvy might struggle.

Well worth a read, especially if you are about to deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq as a Platoon Commander.

G Long
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VINE VOICEon 6 February 2006
As gripping to read as any novel, this young man lets us into a world we would not normally see. News reports are one thing, but the story from the front line is quite another. From preparing their equipment with their own money to incompetent senior officers, this could be a story from any recent war. All of the technical advances on the battlefield count for little compared to the courage and skill of those who must enter the cauldron at great risk to themselves and their colleagues. It is somehow encouraging that such dedicated young men still exist in our times. A striking parallel with WW2 is the self preparation of the vehicles that the Marines will use in the desert, just like David Stirling and the fledgling SAS, just substitute Humvees for Land Rovers. An immensely valuable book and a pleasure to read.
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VINE VOICEon 17 September 2006
I first heard Nathanial Fick on Radio 4 one morning talking about his experiences in Iraq and the aftereffect it had on him. The most striking thing that I recall from that interview was that in the months following his return from active service, he would unconsciously swerve between lanes when going under motorway bridges to avoid grenades and snipers.

This book charts Fick joining the US Marine Corps as a well-educated and thoughtful young man, being groomed into a fighting machine, and then leading young troops into battle in the recent Iraq conflict. At times it is painful to contrast Fick's high ideals of what his corps and his country represent with the stark reality of senior officers who make plans that'll make them look good to the top brass, even if it means putting more "grunts" at risk.

From a tactival perspective, it also changes the common perception that the Iraqi insurgency is no more than a disorganised rabble. Several times Fick and his men are caught up in complex combined-arms assaults and more often than not it is only fast thinking and decisive action by his NCO's that saves the day.

I think I will reserve 5 stars for books that span a slightly longer timespan or go in to more depth; relative to the autobiography of someone liked Col Tim Collins, Fick spent a relatively short time in the USMC. But I am certainly glad that someone of his intelligence served in the military, and glad that someone with real leadership qualities is now back in the world of intellectuals...
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on 22 December 2009
For viewers of generation kill this memoir explains why Nate Fick commanded such repect from his platoon. Fick descrines how a combination of steely determination and thoughtful analysis got him through the gruelling process of training to become a recon marine officer. A military memoir classic up there with chickenhawk.
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on 30 March 2010
What a book! Not only is it a great read but it has you turning every page as fast as you can until the end of the book. Then you want to read it again.

Fick is an inspiring man who i think most good hearted people can relate to. His struggles with his Commanding Officers and leading the men he tries to protect and lead into combat is tinged with sadness, triumph, regret and humour.

If you have read Generation Kill, this is next for you, and if you havent, then get Generation kill too, both books go hand in hand giving very different perspectives on the same events.

5 out of 5!
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This is an excellent account of training, deployment, disenchantment and eventual "retirement" of an officer in the United States Marine Corps.
I came to this book though Generation Kill - and because of this I had already met the central character, Nate Fick. However, this book is far more than just an alternative version of that story.
One Bullet Away traces Fick's entire carrier in the Marines, through training, deployment to Afghanistan, training to become a "Recon Marine" and finally his deployment to Iraq and its consequences.

In many ways it's impossible to think about this book without thinking about Generation Kill as well - but not only do they tell different stories, they also have different approaches. While Fick does not hold back on his opinions of his superior officers, this is a controlled book, which is stronger on tactics and consequences, and shorter on "barrack room" gossip than Generation Kill.

But what this does is make it a more powerful critique of the US Marines (especially in Iraq) because Fick does not get sidetracked by personalities. He seems to be able to identify incompetence without needing to mock it, although it's also clear that he cannot abide it.

Fick seems to be exactly the type of leader that is required in modern wars - with a far greater awareness of his men, his mission and the consequences of his actions than was shown by many of his superior officers. The fact that he could not see himself having a career in the Marines does not bode well for the future success of the military, for he seems to be the type of person they need.

I would recommend this book with reservation, both to readers who have come to it (as I did) though Generation Kill, or from a different direction.
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on 7 July 2009
Excellent book. Bought it after watching the series Generation Kill. Highly recommend it, good story all the way through.
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on 25 July 2015
Having watched the HBO production of Generation Kill and read both Evan Wright's original rolling stone article and the subsequent book, One Bullet away was the natural progression. an interesting perspective as to the life and times of a platoon commander operating in the 21st century. That said, if the truth be told I think I preferred the Young Officer's Reading Club more, if only as it provided a more detailed account of front line operations in Afghanistan, and had yet to be turned into a min-series, thereby colouring one's appreciation of the subject matter. All in all, a good holiday read.
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on 21 July 2010
Having read several books recently regarding the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan I have to say I found this book very impressive. What strikes me is that Nathaniel Fick is a very honourable fellow and when criticising senior officers is also careful to balance by sometimes pointing out their strong points.
If you have read or seen Generation Kill by Evan Wright you will also be aware of clashes between Lt. Fick and a senior non com and his CO. Fick chooses not to rake over these in any great detail and in one instance even appears to shoulder the blame in his own telling.
He has a great gift for writing which had me riveted. I recommend this book for a good dose of the real situation on the ground for a junior officer. Fick is in the tradition of Major Richard Winters (Band of Brothers) and a good role model to any aspiring officer.
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