In most cases, I donít usually enjoy when a writer reads their own work. Some have a knack for it, but I usually find that itís best to leave that to professionals. In this case, the rules donít apply. This is one audio book where the material necessitates the writer to read his work to convey the story, convey its emotions. Written (very well written, almost too polished) and read by Nathaniel Fick, One Bullet Away: The Making Of A Marine Officer is his riveting tale of becoming a Marine and fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The audiobook opens in 1998. Nathaniel is attending Dartmouth, and a speech he attends confirms his desire to join the Marines, a decision that fills him with a sense of pride. The first part of the audiobook follows Nathanielís training Ė lots and lots of both mental and physical combat training - from OCS through TBS, then ultimately to his station at Camp Pendleton. It wouldnít be long before Nathaniel Fickís story would shift through gears: Ivy League boy challenging himself and growing as a person, developing into a Marine, one sent off to fight a war. The events of September 11th, 2001, shift the story as Fick gets assigned to tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Without ever delving into bigger issues like the lack of WMDs or the number of troops on the ground, Fick tells his story without pro-war or anti-war propaganda. It is just his story Ė and itís a good one. We go through the day to day ups and downs of a soldierís life during war: the quick decisions, dealing with harsh conditions, and the shifts from showing humanity back into fight mode. Close to the end of the book is where you get deep into Fickís mental state:
ďI drifted after leaving the Corps. At age twenty-six, I feared I had already lived the best years of my life. Never again would I enjoy the sense of purpose and belonging that I had felt in the Marines. Also, I realized that combat had nearly unhinged me. Despite my loving family, supportive friends, and good education, the war flooded into every part of my life, carrying me along toward an unknown fate. If it could do that to me, what about my Marines? What about the guys without families, whose friends didn't try to understand, who got out of the Corps without the prospects I had?Ē
With that said, the book does break mostly into two halves: the training and the war, with only a very brief third section that hardly qualifies as a section due to its brevity. Fick definitely needed more distance before writing this. Thatís what the third section should have been: recollections over time. The fighting does seem to be sparse at points. I know reality does not unfold like fiction, but there are bouts of banality between the action.
Though I was very entertained by the audio presentation and feel it is definitely a worthwhile listen, there is a PG-13 feel to it, as if it needed to be sanitized or made safe so it could be more easily consumed. Overall, One Bullet Away is a compelling story that is vividly told. Getting into the mind of elite soldiers is a difficult proposition for the average person. No matter how flawed or how perfect a machine such men may seem to be, we are all glad they do what they do to protect us.