One Bullet Away
One Bullet Away

One Bullet Away

The Marine Corps was a last bastion of honor in society, a place where young Americans learned to work as a team, to trust one another and themselves, and to sacrifice for a principle. Hearing it from a recruiter, I would have been skeptical. But here was a journalist, an impartial observer. (Location 97)

They were surprised but supportive. “The Marines,” my dad said, “will teach you everything I love you too much to teach you.” (Location 110)

We drove farther and farther onto the base—along the edge of a swamp, through miles of trees, far enough to feel as if they could kill us here and no one would ever know. That, of course, was the desired effect. (Location 115)

For two days, we shuffled from line to line for haircuts, gear issue, and a battery of physical tests. Candidates who had returned after being dropped from previous OCS classes explained this routine: the schedule was designed to minimize the number of us who flunked out for high blood pressure. (Location 122)

In the beginning, my strongest impression of Quantico, apart from its isolation, was its timelessness. Looking around the squad bay, I could imagine Franklin Roosevelt in the White House. No plastic, no advertising, no bright colors. Just two-high metal racks, as our bunks were called, a green linoleum floor, brick walls, and bare bulbs overhead. The only decoration was a sign of two-foot-high letters stenciled along an entire wall: HONOR, COURAGE, COMMITMENT. (Location 133)

The two Marines told us there were only two ways to stand at OCS: parade rest—feet shoulder-width apart, hands clasped in the small of the back, eyes straight ahead; and at attention—heels together, back straight, hands (Location 150)

us. The colonel’s lantern jaw, craggy nose, and graying hair were straight from a recruiting commercial. He looked as if he could wrestle any of us to the floor, and authority ran deep in his voice. (Location 154)

I was learning that in the Marines, the only easy day was yesterday. Success the day before meant nothing, and tomorrow might never happen. (Location 308)

Those without can join the Army. A gauntlet of screaming instructors lined the path from the chow line to the tables. (Location 316)

The genteel posture was a façade. There were no manners here, no conversations with tablemates. (Location 321)

We memorized the names and dates of famous battles and the exploits of renowned Marines. (Location 329)

The leadership traits were bearing, courage, decisiveness, dependability, endurance, enthusiasm, initiative, integrity, judgment, justice, knowledge, loyalty, tact, and unselfishness. (Location 332)

I later learned that OCS platoon command is just a holding tank for young captains returning to Quantico for advanced training. It’s a cushy job to decompress after a Fleet tour—easy hours, little supervision, and no real responsibility. (Location 365)

Captain Fanning was a soft-spoken helicopter pilot. I stared at the silver bars on his collar and the gold aviator wings pinned above his left breast. He held a single piece of paper and told us to sit down. Fanning looked at us with a mixture of empathy and disdain. (Location 369)

“First,” he counseled, “you must be technically and tactically proficient.” (Location 379)

“Being a nice guy is great, but plenty of nice guys have gotten half their Marines killed because they didn’t know their jobs. (Location 380)

“Second, make sound and timely decisions.” According to Captain Fanning, one of the gravest errors was waiting to have all the information before making a decision. In the fog of combat, you’ll never have all the information. A good plan violently executed now, he urged, was better than a great plan later. Be decisive, act, and be ready to adapt. (Location 382)

“Why do we care here about how your uniform looks?” Fanning asked us. “Because your Marines will care.” Sloppiness begets sloppiness, and small inattentions would set us on the slippery slope to large ones. (Location 385)