Fick '99 aims to spark discussion

by Elliot Mattingly | 11/14/05 6:00am

Former U.S. Marine Captain Nathaniel Fick '99 addressed a packed house in Filene Auditorium Friday night about his experiences leading a combat unit in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fick, a classics major, fondly recalled his days at Dartmouth before telling the audience that his main point was to start informed discussions about current military issues.

"Too often, we retreat to our own camps and throw grenades at one another. It's about assigning blame then looking for a way forward," he said.

Fick criticized the military's unpreparedness in Afghanistan before talking about his experiences there.

"We were operating blind," he said.

Eliciting laughter throughout his presentation with multiple humorous anecdotes, Fick spoke about the difficulties facing the troops in Afghanistan and recalled the changes he found in the country when he came home after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I had a couple Marines in my platoon come to the airport to go home without I.D.," Fick said.

The former Marine also addressed a variety of issues involving the military, especially soldiers' political leanings.

"The tradition of a professional apolitical military is a sacred thing, in my opinion," Fick said, commenting on the soldiers' ability to leave personal views behind when in the throes of a mission.

Discussing the beginning of the Iraq war, Fick spoke about the war's uneventful beginning.

"My Marines would joke that our mission was to drive until we got shot at," he said. "That was, for the most part, largely true."

Fick spoke multiple times about the difficulty of combat in Iraq once the war picked up speed using vivid images to portray the complexities of combat.

"People would shoot at us from mosques and ambulances," Fick said. "I saw a man with a rifle in one hand and a little girl in the other."

Fick said that, when he came home, he had not planned on telling his story, but ended up writing as a form of catharsis.

"I got back from Iraq and had no intention of writing a book," he said.

The question-and-answer session included testimonials from former servicemen in response to Fick's comment about the camaraderie that develops among soldiers, questions about Fick's prominent role in the recent book "Generation Kill" and the current debate over treatment of prisoners of war.

Fick simultaneously criticized and defended the Bush administration's handling of the war.

"I can't fathom the pressure," he said, in reference to the challenges facing the president.

But Fick also discussed his disapproval of the way prisoners of war have been handled.

"The Geneva conventions are sacred to me because I knew that any day I could be captured by the other side," he said.

The speech became increasingly controversial when Fick addressed the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

"I know I'm walking into the mine field right now. In my view, the Pentagon's policy is on the wrong side of history. It's going to change. It has to change. Right now it is being used as an excuse by some schools to keep recruiters off campus," Fick said. "This to me is the worst example of cutting off your nose to spite your face."

Fick argued that the military needs representatives from relatively liberal institutions like Dartmouth in order to prevent it from becoming too far outside the scope of public interest.

Fick closed the debate by commenting on the future role the military should play in Iraq.

"The military has a supporting role from here on out," he said.

When the debate was closing, a former Iraqi soldier from the current war and Fulbright scholar Barakat Jassen stood up and addressed the futility of his time fighting the Americans.

"The happiest day in my life was the day I knew I never had to go back to the Iraqi army," Jassen said.