Book Recollection: One Bullet Away

Stepping up my game a little here.  This will be my third Book Recollection in four months.  Definitely an approval over my last drought.  A trip to Vegas was a big help in getting through this offering – nothing like sitting by the pool in the Vegas sun reading a book and getting grapes delivered to you by the help.  Of course that is probably more of Linda’s doing than mine but got’s me sum tasty grapes anyway (rumor has it Vegas sun does something to your brain).  If you recall from the last recollection (link here) I alluded that a superior offering was forthcoming.  Without further delay I bring you One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine  Officer.  This particular work was everything that I had hoped for with American Sniper and then some.  From all the other reads this author (Nathaniel Fick) has come the closest to matching my pedestal on which sits Lone Survivor.   It has been so long now I am unable to remember what prompted me to put this on my reading list but somewhere, somehow this book caught my attention (likely due to being a New York Times Bestseller but it might have actually shown up as a recommended read in Entertainment Weekly).  It doesn’t really matter where – just go out and get this book if you want an informative and compelling read on what it takes to be a Marine officer.  Captain Fick was (or maybe “is” – not sure you lose your rank when you leave the militarily honorably) served as a Marine infantry officer and became a Captain in the elite First Reconnaissance Battalion.  New to me was that the Marines do not have a designated elite division electing not to participate in the special operations command – “there will be no special Marines.”  Frequent readers know a lot of this blogger’s time has been spent pouring over books on the Seals and Special Forces units – the Marines were a new branch to explore.  Turns out there is an unwritten elite within the Marine ranks and that (as you probably guessed) is the Recon Unit.  From this read, these soldiers truly live up to their motto Swift, Silent and Deadly.  They are the tip of the spear and thrive there through skill, determination and all the firepower they can muster into the field.  Based on Nathaniel’s accounts the Silent part often takes backseat to the Swift and Deadly as he recounts time after time driving their Humvees directly into the heart of the enemy and establishing superiority.  While on the subject of deadly, my mouth dropped open when I read that “Marksmen” are actually the LOWEST on the shooter qualification standard – “Sharpshooter” is above that and “Expert” beyond that.  As Nathaniel points out, you don’t want to introduce yourself to the men you are going to lead into battle as just a Marksmen.

Captain Fick puts you in the passenger seat as he takes the battle to Afghanistan and then on to the hot sun of Iraq.  Much like Lone Survivor, the author does an excellent job of painting the situation and recounting the actions taken.  More importantly, Fick takes you inside his thought process, laying out the options, correlating his training, taking you through the determined action and then assessing the results.  I can’t complement the author enough on his candidness admitting his mistakes and giving due credit to his team.  Absent was the sense of pure cockiness so evident in the American Sniper book.  Nathanial was trained to be the best and characterized his superior actions as just doing his job.  This is a must read if you want to understand what it takes to be a Marine officer, what you have to endure to be considered a Marine, the expectations superiors place on you when lead men into combat and what those soldiers rely on to make it out alive.  If you are like me, you always ask yourself “could I do that”, “could I make it through that experience”, “do I have the drive and determination to endure the hardships imposed on officer candidates and ultimately be effective in the field.  In this specific situation the answer is clearly NO (as the ego deflates).  I might be able to make it through the infantry training (with a hell of a lot of luck) but the Recon training would do me in – even if I could make it through some of it, the torture preparedness would  be my Uncle.  That chapter gave me nightmares for weeks.  Adding to that, Fick provided a side of war that is often glossed over in similar works – the theater of the gruesome.  The damage that today’s instruments of war can inflict on the human body is horrific at best and hammers home the difficulties soldiers must face as they assimilate back into society.  As a hint, they literally spend time in emergency rooms during their training to become desensitized to the scenes they will experience in action – not to mention an entire class on Killology to get them mentally prepared for the “shock”.  Let’s all be thankful there are individuals out there willing to put country first and body second.  To all those we owe a a great deal of respect and unlimited gratitude.  Well done Nathaniel, well done!

Hit the jump to read about the MANY takeaways from this read

  • Marine Core Values: Honor, Courage and Commitment
  • During recruiting, Army, Navy, Air Force all promised pay and skills training.. the Marines promised nothing
  • When he informed him he was enlisting in the Marines his Father said “[They] will teach you everything I love you too much to teach you”
  • Ductus Exemplo – Leadership by Example – Quantico Motto
  • Bumper sticker: Nobody ever drowned in sweat – kind of reminds me of the quote I saw that said you don’t drown from jumping into the water.. you drown by just staying there
  • Marine entry physical fitness test – 20 dead hang pull ups, 100 crunches under 2 minutes, 3 mile run under 18 minutes.. they pick the order (recommend not making the mistake of telling them the order you want to do it in)
  • The only easy day was yesterday
  • Quantico didn’t allow them to wear wristwatches and clocks were few
  • Leadership traits: Bearing, Courage, Decisiveness, Dependability, Endurance, Enthusiasm, Initiative, Integrity, Judgement, Justice, Knowledge, Loyalty, Tact, Unselfishness
  • Dietary supplements are strictly forbidden in Officer Candidate School (not even Gatorade) – being caught with it is dismissal
  • Advice from the field: You must be technically and tactically proficient, Make sound and timely decisions, Set the example, Know your men and look out for their welfare – that is what will allow them to follow you into hell  (there were definite times the author had to challenge his superiors over this particular advice), Train your men as a team.
  • Foxes dig holes to hide in – Marines dig fighting holes to kill the enemy from
  • Mameluke sword – is a reminder of Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon’s expedition against the Barbary pirates in 1805 – always wondered what that represented especially in today’s fighting arena.
  • Korea’s Chosin Reservoir – First Marine Division had to fight its way out of a Chinese trap in gasoline freezing weather
  • Corp Mantra – Every Marine a rifleman
  • President Harry Truman once said Marines have a propaganda machine second only to Stalin’s .. guessing our current administrations ability to lie to the American public is a close third
  • Here was as surprise – Those who barely made it on the firing range are labeled Marksmen – above then Sharpshooters and at the top Experts (it was likened to increasing condom sizes).  Nathaniel wasn’t about to stand in front of his platoon with anything less than an Expert – a bold goal for someone who did not have a lot of experience behind the sights which were iron not scopes.
  • There are three fundamentals of marksmanship – Sight Picture, Bone Support, Natural Point of Aim (bottom of breadth)
  • Indecision is a decision which has a cost all its own
  • When asked how a Captain earned his Combat Valor award – the response “I did my job”
  • I need to add Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire to my reading list
  • Killology – study of healthy people’s reactions to killing – I’ve always wondered how this was addressed on a psychology level – eerily similar to my HS driver education class – direct exposure through horrific visuals – this is the part of the book that caught my attention the most.  This is often glossed over in the other books I’ve read but Nathaniel doesn’t hold back on the graphics scenes he was unfortunate enough to be part of.  They actually have to spend time in emergency rooms to become desensitized to the damage that can be inflicted on humans.  This is also where the author saw his first dead man and true to the Killology class .. it was a shock
  • “I don’t know what dickhead designed the M-16 (standard Marine grunt weapon) but it shoots a varmint round.  You don’t want a fucking squirrel gun in your hands in a firefight” – a response when the Nathanial asked his Staff Sergeant how it stacked up
  • 64 pages in you get the premise of the book: “Any one of you is one bullet away from commanding this company” – plenty of incentive to stay focused and learn
  • The USS Arizona Memorial (Pearl Harbor) sags in the middle to symbolize initial defeat but stands firm at the ends in testament and ultimate victory – never knew that!
  • The Navy had infamously abandoned the Marines at Guadalcanal after losing 4 ships leaving them to battle their way to control of the island – >1,000 Marines died and 4x that many wounded while killing 25,000 Japanese – horrific
  • Australia is home to 9 of the top 10 deadliest snakes (better not tell Linda that or we won’t be visiting there anytime in our lifetime)
  • Afghanistan – 25mil population, 30% literacy, $800 GDP per capita, life expectancy 45 yrs
  • Afghanistan has a history of defiance – Alexander the Great almost died from an arrow there, Genghis Khan had to give them concessions and the British lost three wars there – we all know how well Russia did there (15,00 admitted dead in 1980s and 10x wounded plus thousands dead from disease.. again.. just the admitted numbers)
  • The authors rucksack weighed 175 lbs  seems contrary to his education that Marines were not effective carrying more than 50 lbs – theory dying in the face of practice
  • Marines in the field never salute their leaders – this I knew – hoping no need to explain why
  • Marines are always eager to avoid a fair fight
  • Recon is considered the toughest unit in the Marines – the Marine Corp decided to keep out of special operations command and chose to remain autonomous – there would be no “special” Marines like the Seals and Army.
  • Recon motto: If you are still conscious, then you have quit
  • Marines wear no special insignia – uniforms are not decorated with badges or patches
  • Those wanting to go into recon might want to read the chapter on their torture preparedness process .. count me out
  • Fick did mention Saddam’s gas attack on the Kurds as well as his torturing imprisonment, raping and murdering his people, invading neighbors and threatening the world with weapons of mass destruction… and yet the liberal media of the world are simply upset they didn’t find said weapons of mass destruction – I guess all those other things were just inconveniences.
  • I stand corrected – my brother was right about the promised afterlife of martyrs – I thought it was 20 virgins when it fact it is 99.  I will never forget a comic I saw once that had a terrorist at the gates where it was pointed out that “no, no, that was VIRGINIANS”
  • When a mission was “Declared hostile” it meant there were no longer rules of engagement – shoot first and ask questions later
  • Fick was pretty candid about collateral damage – even admitting the unplanned death of boys and girls.  A difficult cross to bear I am sure and brings and understanding of the difficulties of assimilation back into society
  • The golden rule – guns are good and more are better
  • The author called it! ” Just wait.  Next year it’ll be Syria, then North Korea…”   How prescient based on today’s state of the world.  (actually later in the book they had a firefight with Syrians that had crossed the border under the reason of Jihad based on their passports – a foolish move unless they just couldn’t wait to get their Virginians – even with that, the Marines opted to try and save the one remaining and badly injured jihadist).   I’ll also note they found Syrian night vision goggles in the enemies hands
  • He commented on the bombs being dropped by the Air Force – “other bombs targeted by the pilots using Litening pods, special sensors that could see through darkness and clouds”  I mention this as a shout out to someone I know that happens to know a thing or two about these pods.
  • It seems odd to me that all the time war was in motion, the Iraqi civilians were out and about watching our military pass on the road or out pilfering whatever they could from the abandoned palaces.  You always imagine war taking place in open fields and unpopulated areas – a dose of reality that today’s wars take place in confined places with constant decision on civilian or foe.
  • Nathaniel’s litmus test – If someone was killed on a mission he planned, would he be able to visit their parents after the war and explain to them honestly why their son had died working for him – harkens you back to why they are willing to follow someone through the gates of hell – concerned about their welfare
  • Only sane people think they are going crazy – awareness is sanity crazy people think their sane
  • Great Marine commanders are willing to kill that which means the most to them – their men – it is a fundamental law of warfare.
  • He applied for grad school and was contacted by the admissions officer regarding a statement that was attributed to him in a Rolling Stone article “The bad news is we won’t get much sleep tonight, the good news is we get to kill people” – she wanted him to explain that statement based on a concern that he might enjoy killing people and would not be a nice person to be around – his response was he wouldn’t be climbing a tower and picking people off and “Do I feel compelled to explain myself to you? I don’t”   Command had requested that they let that Rolling Stone journalist follow his unit around and this is the thanks he;s given for agreeing to that request.  This statement just reaffirmed my belief that RS is a POS rag whose only purpose is to cater to the Liberal agenda.  Guessing they are basking in the infamous glow of attention for putting the Boston Bomber on their cover.  Be assured, I’ll never forget this disgraceful decision
  • He did point out he doesn’t want to be thanked for what they did over there.. but rather the good decisions that were made –  hoping he had made more right that wrong ones
  • He took 65 men into battle and brought 65 men back – he is proud and deservedly so
  • A portion of the proceeds from this book are being donated to the veteran’s organizations including the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation dedicated to finding higher education for the children of Marines killed in action.

4 thoughts on “Book Recollection: One Bullet Away”

  1. “I stand corrected – my brother was right”

    I really didn’t read much after this, so I assume you mean about everything. Except maybe for when I was driving around in a car with brakes that sometimes didn’t work when the cylinders would fall out. Or the one with the sticky accelerator pedal. Or the time I drained the transmission fluid and filled up the oil reservoir with an extra 5 quarts of oil. Or when I melted the interior plastic of my rented mini-fridge in grad school trying to defrost it with a space heater. Or setting the phosphorus container on fire and emptying the top floor of my high school. Or the time I accidentally created a file named * on my Unix machine and then entered “rm *” to delete it. Or the time I put all the pages of my book draft, written in pencil, on the roof of my car and took off in a storm, the retrieval of which is to date my single biggest test of character. Or the time I locked my house keys in the car and my car keys in the house. Or when I was a college student and was introduced in a bar to the very drunk sheriff of Morgan County, IL, and I asked him about his 27 recent prisoner abuse indictments. Or… well, forget it. I thought the number was 72 anyway.

    pods — woo-hoo!


  2. Holy crap, I feel like a priest and just got a 10 year absent worth of confessions!!! I’d absolve you, but if I recall you were in fact driving me around with you in that crappy car putting my life in danger .. or was that me when I used to force your leg down on the gas pedal.. neeevvveeerrrmind. I’ll never forget your transmission fluid incident – every time I change my tractor oil I think about that and double check everything is closed up tight – so there’s goodness there. I heard about the phosphorus container incident thanks to coming AFTER you through the same classes – a big thanks for that legacy. EVERY person in I.T. has rm *’d at least once or they are not a true geek – mine came when I was speed typing and accidentally entered rm *[blank].jnk. When the prompt didn’t come back instantly my heart sank as my disk free space rocketed up (and that was before the days you could recover the lost data out of the drive BOM). My coworkers got quite the chuckle at my expense. I once put my wallet on the roof of a car at the golf course and lost it – does that count? .. now the bar thing.. I’ll spare details on that in case some other members of the family happen to stumble on this site but can you remind me again who tore the taxi light off the car?

    In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost (personally thought there was just too many ands in there but maybe I wasn’t focused enough on the message hehehe)


  3. umm I know for a fact there is a story about grabbing the taxi light off the top of a cab – just unclear on who was the perp. It may have been Kevin.. but me thinks someone else was there or I would not know about it


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