Friday, September 10, 2010

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer

by Nathaniel Fick

I've written before about how much I enjoyed David Simon and Ed Burn's Generation Kill, and how it led me to track down the source material, Evan Wright's book.  In both forms of the story, one of the people that intrigued me the most was Lieutenant Nate Fick.  Fick was portrayed as a thoughtful, considerate officer, who weighed the well-being of his men into his decisions, and who frequently bumped up against his superiors in an effort to execute the intent, if not the letter, of their commands.  When I heard that Fick had written a book, I figured it would be an interesting read.

While Generation Kill is concerned solely with the earliest days of the war in Iraq, Fick gives us an overview of his entire military career, from the time he first spent in Officer Candidate School through his time in Afghanistan, followed by Recon training, and then being the tip of the spear for the invasion of Iraq.

Fick's writing is remarkably readable, and he does a great job of capturing the sensory saturation of combat.  What impressed me the most about this book was the restraint and decorum that Fick exhibits.  Wright's book and the TV show revel in exposing the failings of officers and command (other than Fick), yet Fick limits the amount of space given to this topic.  He is clear about having had issues with his Captain (unnamed here, called Encino Man by Wright and the Marines), although he goes out of his way to temper any negative comments with kinder statements about his character.  Captain America, openly mocked by Wright, is not even mentioned in the book.  I was curious to see what Fick really thought about these people, but he was too much of a gentleman to share.

This book sheds some light on what went wrong in Iraq, seen from the ground.  Fick had ideas about how to keep Baghdad from descending into anarchy, yet had no channel to express his thoughts.  Instead, he had to watch with frustration as the seeds of the insurgency started to take root.

What most sticks with me from reading this book is the devotion Fick felt for his Marines, and the pains to which he went to share their story with the world.  He does not fall into easy platitudes about sacrifice, but goes to great pains to show us people we should respect and honour, while never shying away from the realities of what they were asked to do.

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