Beyond Russian bounties: US Special Forces, unconventional wars, and the warning signs from Russian behavior in Afghanistan and Syria

How should we understand the story of Russian bounties being paid to the Taliban for targeting American troops? No one needs a classified intelligence briefing to know the truth of what Russia was doing in Afghanistan. Enough of it is out in the open. The Kremlin wanted the environment in Afghanistan destabilized. They supported the Taliban to kill our guys so we would leave. Full stop. It’s hard to review even a barebones timeline of Russian behavior in Afghanistan and Syria and not question why intelligence about Russian activities, which was coming from US forces on the ground, was being so consistently ignored by the White House — even as they relied on Russia as a trusted counterpart for getting the hell out of Syria and Afghanistan. Instead, the Trump Administration made a series of decisions that have notably provided advantage to the Kremlin and its near term objectives. Because, as Mattis lightly warned, it isn’t just that President Trump is ignoring the threat from Russia — he is disarming us against it. Our leadership has ceded the battlefield. But Americans are still on the frontlines of the war. Read on:

2017 was an exhausting year to be an American working around the Western rim of Russia. At first, most people in the Baltics and Ukraine didn’t think it would be as crazy as it was — same as at home. But there was only one Trump, the presidential version never arriving, and he kept on as he had during the campaign — disparaging allies, undercutting alliances, pandering to Putin. Nerves frayed as Trump tweeted and allies shared notes between themselves, and every visit to the region started to feel like a one-woman reassurance tour. Don’t give up on us; we’re still here. There was a lot of drinking and smoking and late nights in seedy bars (the core toolkit of informal reassurance). No, he doesn’t understand what NATO is; yes, he did pass classified allied intelligence to the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office; yes, the speech in Warsaw where he endorsed the Kremlin’s worldview was pretty nuts; no, most Americans don’t see what he is yet. Let me buy this round. I have a lighter. My flight is at like 5 am. The flight is always at 5 am when there is crisis, and you will be unshowered and hungover and run into the Minister of Something at the airport, and all your memories will have an otherworldly quality that seem like something that is happening to someone else. 

Only there isn’t anyone else. It’s the first lesson you learn, working against the Kremlin in the region. Nobody is coming; there is only us. 

I crawled toward the finish line of 2017 with a five-country tour through northern Europe’s long midwinter nights, followed by a stop in Stuttgart “on the way” to Idaho for Christmas, which, given the vagaries of snowstorms and mountain west travel, meant spending 30 hours in Colorado in either side of a flight to the mountains. It was as good an excuse as any to put on my last non-cigarette-and-whiskey-sweat dress and catch up with friends around Fort Carson. There, like everywhere, the mood was sedate. The pre-Christmas drinks were a series of not-that-funny jokes about the invasion of North Korea that Trump had asked the Pentagon to provide plans for — combat possibilities that then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis described as “a war more serious in terms of human suffering than anything we've seen since 1953.” Enough of this dumb year, time for the next one. A toast we could all get behind. 

On the way back through after Christmas, everything seemed darker. As Fort Carson’s 10th Special Forces Group, which splits its time between Europe and Afghanistan, rang in the New Year, word spread that one of their own had been killed on New Year’s Day in Afghanistan. Sergeant First Class Mihail Golin had been born in Latvia, enlisted in the army soon after arriving in America, and done three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before earning his Special Forces tab. His current deployment in Afghanistan was his first with 10th group. Details of his death were vague due to operational security concerns, but “real deal, heroic sh*t” was the word-of-mouth assessment passed among the teams. 

Golin was killed just two months after another 10th group combat death in Afghanistan. As the next two years played out, Golin’s death seemed to mark a before and an after. It felt like the beginning of a period of intensified targeting of US Special Forces in Afghanistan. And at first it seemed to highlight the split between the objectives in the 10th group deployments in Europe — building partner forces and resistance potential — versus those in Afghanistan — more tactically focused missions conducted with partner forces. 

But now we know that whether in the Baltics or Afghanistan, the 10th group’s teams were running up against the same adversary — Russia — at two ends of the continuous front of the Kremlin’s hybrid war against America. 

In 2019, as a Russian military intelligence unit was paying bounties to Taliban-connected fighters to kill Americans, 22 US troops died in Afghanistan. Half of those were elite troops — 10 Green Berets, including 4 from 10th group, plus one member of the 75th Ranger Regiment. More were their supporting elements. Too many from too few. How many fell because — bounties aside — the Kremlin was arming the Taliban and giving them targeting intelligence? How many in 2018? 2017? How many fell because two US presidents have failed to acknowledge that the Kremlin is at war with us

While the full story on the Kremlin’s bounties is still being told, it is emblematic of three things that we already know are true.

First, the bounty story is one data point in a long stream of stories about Russian activities in Afghanistan and Syria that are purposefully designed to put Russian forces, proxies, and mercenaries in direct conflict with US forces in those theaters. Any military, intelligence, or policy person who doesn’t understand this pattern is willfully ignoring the facts on the ground established by years of behavior. Understanding the bounty story is about accepting that the Kremlin confronts the US in this way, and understanding why it does so.  

Second, the White House reaction to the bounty story — which was to muster the yes-men to blame everyone but Russia for everything but the actual attacks on US forces — exposes that we still have no policy to fight the war that the Kremlin is waging on us. 

And third, it is this decision to ignore the war that has painted targets on the backs of the Americans who are actually fighting it as much as any bounty. 

* * * * * 

But it helps to look closer at what this war is, and the tools we have to fight it. 

In the summer of 2016, President Obama was briefed on Russia’s expanding multi-domain war against America, a war that increasingly used deniable means of attack, and did nothing — after an administration filled with 8 years of doing not a hell of a lot as Russia invaded neighbors, annexed territory, revamped its army, redesigned political warfare, slaughtered civilians, drove a refugee crisis that upended European politics, entrenched itself in the eastern Mediterranean, changed the center of gravity in the Middle East, and sought to realign the world. In the summer of 2020, President Trump reprised this role, ignoring attacks on America and Americans, handing territory and legitimacy to the Kremlin. Obama believed that anything we did in response to the Kremlin’s aggression would somehow make it worse. Trump doesn’t believe anything is happening at all. These are bookends of the same twisted paralysis and abject failure. 

Our leadership has ceded the battlefield. But Americans are still on the frontlines of the war. 

Across the world — in some places almost by accident at first — US Special Forces have ended up being tapped as the primary partner to build deep relationships that can dampen, either directly or de facto, the impact of the Kremlin’s hybrid tactics and influence campaigns. They are a unique tool in the landscape of near-peer great power competition as it becomes more and more complex, spanning more and more domains. 

In many respects, it’s no surprise to find Green Berets in the trenches of a hybrid conflict in what is inherently an ideological struggle against authoritarian powers. This is, after all, why President Kennedy championed Special Forces as the tip of the spear in the evolving unconventional war against the Soviet Union: the ground-level counterinsurgency and resistance missions that SF forces led contributed significantly to broader global initiatives. In a note to the commander of the Special Warfare Center, Kennedy wrote that “the challenge of this old but new form of operations is a real one” — a statement that could have been written in 2014 as easily as in 1961, and a reminder that our tendency to forget the centrality of these tactics for adversarial powers is a mistake. 

Special Forces have the primary mission of training local partner forces to be better against specific threats and adversaries so that we don't have to be everywhere — you know, the thing elected officials are always saying we should do more of so US forces don’t have to play “global police.” In some cases, this is the relatively inglorious work of building partner elements from pretty raw material to address specific mission sets like counterterrorism operations. In other places, like in Europe, this can mean working with elite and command elements of partner forces to build capabilities against a more complex threat, like perpetual Russian aggression and threat of invasion. In Ukraine, for example, Green Berets quietly run the qualification course for Ukraine’s new special operations forces — a program viewed as tremendously successful by both Ukraine and its Western partners as Ukraine continues to fight Russian-backed forces in the eastern part of the country, and one that lets us learn from the Ukrainians’ frontline experience

These theater special forces have longer-term missions and are distinct from the JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) deployments that we hear about more often in headlines, which are manned primarily by Delta Force and SEALs and have an immediate and limited operational objective (a team is sent in to do something, and then get out). Green Berets joke about getting “JSOCed” when these tactical missions crash into their own without much warning. 

Most of what Green Berets do is not well understood because they are notoriously self-contained. This don’t-really-talk-about-ourselves culture is deeply ingrained: there are few memoirs or forays into entertainment, a trait perhaps best represented by the fact that the military advisors for the movie 12 Strong, which was about the team of Green Berets that kicked off the US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, didn’t include a single Special Forces veteran (though there were, to be sure, plenty of Navy SEALs, no doubt each of whom had written a tell-all memoir!). 

But in a very real sense — as Kennedy understood during the hot days of the Cold War, and as our military commanders understand now as unconventional warfare becomes the standard threat matrix — Special Forces are the best tool we have to build real security capacity and resilience that doesn't require an expansive US presence on the ground everywhere all the time to accomplish significant operational and strategic objectives. I always laugh when stories about the “startling size of US Special Forces” are published — you can put as many pins in a map as you want, but each one is typically somewhere between one and a handful of highly-trained operators doing something impossible with a funding stream that seems to be missing a bunch of zeros. But again, this gets back to the thing where not many people really understand what Green Berets actually do. And when you’re talking about a team of three guys being sent to train an entire fighting cadre, the scope of the loss of 10 Green Berets being killed in one year in Afghanistan gets a little more perspective. That’s whole missions wiped off the board.

One of the best examples we have of “countering Russia” in their own plane of engagement is the 10th group deployments in the Baltics. They approach the challenge as an unconventional problem set. They don’t come in assuming there is a different answer than working the actual problem. They are right for the mission, adaptable and innovative in a local context that is complex and ever-shifting. They enhance the already significant capabilities of local partners and give a new center of gravity to our own efforts, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s a light-footprint, low-budget, deep-expertise mission that has meaningfully closed the gap. 

And the Kremlin has noticed, even if the White House has not. 

* * * * *

With these notable successes in Ukraine and the Baltics, it is perhaps not so surprising that the Kremlin, or in particular the GRU (Russian military intelligence) as a top unconventional asset, seems to be looking for other venues to confront US Special Forces, whether it be with proxies, mercenaries, or their own troops. In general, the Kremlin has moved to press the advantage presented by weak US leadership in a number of different theaters. But this is particularly true in Afghanistan and Syria, where President Trump has amply telegraphed his belief that these are “loser” conflicts. The Kremlin has doubled its efforts to accelerate this feedback loop by building a new landscape in which the protection of American strategic priorities is a lot more difficult and costly. Why are we here, anyway? becomes This is just making me look bad pretty easily. 

A lot of clarity on this situation can be gained from a simple survey of publicly-available, open-source information about Russian activities in Afghanistan and Syria, and what our military commanders have been saying about them. 

Russia has been quietly toying about in Afghanistan since at least 2007 — roughly the same timeline on which Putin began showing renewed aggression against his neighbors, and both actions showing a reorientation of priorities in the Kremlin. In 2014 — notably after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, when the threshold for accepting bullsh*t initiatives from the Kremlin should have been a lot higher — the Kremlin sent a relic of the KGB’s 1980s Afghanistan program, improbably named Zamir Kabulov, to ask if the Obama team would engage in secret talks with Russia and Iran on the future of Afghanistan. For some reason, ignoring all recent history about what goodwill toward Moscow earns you, they said yes, keeping the talks hidden from NATO allies and others who had skin in the game in Afghanistan. 

At the same time, US intelligence was catching more reports that the Russian government was supplying arms, financing, and intelligence to the Taliban. The talks continued anyway. As per usual, the Russians were using negotiations to buy time for their own covert operations inside Afghanistan. By early 2016, when Russia withdrew from the faux-cooperation, Kabulov had had plenty of time to revamp Russia’s old influence network across the country. In mid-2018, a report prepared by an intelligence contractor from open-source materials in Afghanistan was shared with me; it documented the extensive efforts by Russian intelligence to reestablish ties with former Afghan networks to influence the security and political landscape. Much of it was about creating a political environment where the Afghan government would kick out US forces, as well as cultivating access points within Afghan security forces. The rest was about arming the Taliban, directly and via proxies, with weapons, money, and intelligence, to “eliminate the US/NATO presence” in Afghanistan. These efforts had escalated significantly beginning in 2016. They were not limited to Afghanistan. In June 2016, Russia bombed a remote outpost in Syria used by US Special Forces — twice — to “pressure the Obama administration into closer cooperation in Syria.”

By the end of the Obama administration, as details of Russia’s attack on the American elections were becoming public, Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, was openly briefing that Russia was supporting the Taliban. Early in the new administration, Gen. Scaparrotti, the commander of US forces in Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee: “I've seen the influence of Russia of late—increased influence in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban.” At the same time, Mattis raised concerns about what Russia was up to in Afghanistan, including its support of the Taliban. In April, both Nicholson and Mattis acknowledged reports that the Taliban was being armed by Russia; Mattis noted that the US would have to confront Russia on this issue. In July, videos seemed to confirm that that Taliban had new Russian armaments. In September, speaking during a visit to Afghanistan, Mattis criticized Russia and Iran for their support of the Taliban. Shortly after, reports emerged about new Taliban “commando units” — the Red Units — which were highly armed and trained, using tactics they hadn’t before. Green Berets were sent to fight the Red Units. There were new details about Russian schemes to fund the Taliban

As Trump grumbled about wanting to leave Syria, Special Forces teams made a rare public statement that they wanted to stay on their mission. In February 2018, mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group and pro-Assad forces attacked a US special operations base in Syria. The resulting battle left 200+ Russian and pro-Assad forces dead. Mattis described the whole confrontation, which had Kremlin approval, as “perplexing.” In March, Nicholson linked the Russian behavior in Afghanistan and Syria: “This activity [by Russia in Afghanistan] really picked up in the last 18 to 24 months. Prior to that we had not seen this kind of destabilizing activity by Russia here. When you look at the timing it roughly correlates to when things started to heat up in Syria. So it's interesting to note the timing of the whole thing." 

These efforts to undermine confidence in military progress in Afghanistan continued. In December, President Trump announced significant troop withdrawals in Syria and Afghanistan. Mattis resigned, noting that Russia and China “want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model.” One of the main casualties in Syria is the Special Forces training program, which has been considered incredibly successful. Shortly after, Putin discusses how Russia is expanding its presence in the region, emphasizing the importance of the Taliban. 

2019 kicked off with Trump bizarrely repeating the Kremlin’s rewrite of history on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (wonder where he heard that from?). Kabulov — now a primary contact for Zal Khalilzad, the State Department’s lead negotiator on Afghanistan — says Russia is willing to “offer help” to allow the US to “withdraw without a loss of face.” Scaparrotti again testifies that Russia is “carrying out subversive and destabilizing activities in Europe and the U.S. and exploiting opportunities to increase its influence and expand its presence in Afghanistan, Syria, and Asia.” In May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets Putin in Sochi, where they discuss Afghanistan. Putin emphasizes the role of the Taliban. The transcript on the Kremlin’s website cites Pompeo as saying: “President Trump wants to do everything we can... Some of our cooperation has been excellent. On North Korea. On Afghanistan, we’ve done good work. Counter-terrorism work together. These are things we can build upon.” In September, Russia said the US wanted Russia to come when the peace deal with the Taliban was signed, preening their ownership of the agreement. The Taliban travels to Moscow shortly after, when talks hit a snag. During all of this, US intelligence had already told the White House that Russia may be giving the Taliban bounties to kill Americans. 2019 was the deadliest year for US forces in Afghanistan since 2014. 

In October, Trump finally pulls most US troops out of Syria; US Special Forces are forced to abandon bases, equipment, and allies. In November, Russian forces take over the abandoned bases and have a propaganda party about it. Where US special operators remain in eastern Syria, Russian contractors continue to appear looking for a fight. The US warns Russia frequently via the deconfliction channel

In Afghanistan, 2020 begins with the finalization of the peace accord with the Taliban, which includes a significant US force reduction. The US emphasizes that special operators will increasingly take the lead on American efforts in Afghanistan following the drawdown. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper testify on the supposed peace deal, downplaying ongoing attacks by the Taliban and their intentions overall. Kabulov makes clear that Russia continues to support the Taliban’s military efforts against Afghan government forces (with whom US forces embed) to give them a favorable position in political negotiations, not even pretending to hide their support for attacks that will target American soldiers. During all of this, Trump is pushing the CIA to increase its intelligence sharing with Russia.

In eastern Syria, Russia begins building a major new forward-operating base that will put additional pressure on US forces remaining in Syria. After issuing a weird joint statement about WWII with Putin in April, Trump has a call with Putin on June 1, and then suggests inviting Russia back to the G7. 

This call is followed by a dense period of US-Russian interaction on Afghanistan. Esper and his Russian counterpart speak on June 2. On June 4, Milley speaks with Gen. Gerasimov, his Russian counterpart. On June 16, Khalilzad talks to Kabulov, and then on June 23 he meets Russia’s ambassador to Washington. That meeting is just 3 days before the bounty story makes the news — smiling and “coordinating approaches” on “counter-terrorism.” Doubt that photo op will make the forever vanity wall. 

Under the guise of COVID, the US accelerates its drawdown in Afghanistan, surpassing what was promised to the Taliban. Half a dozen Special Forces teams — about 70 Green Berets — have been pulled out of Afghanistan without much warning. All of this was after reports on the Russian targeting of US forces were being debated internally. New reporting indicates that Iran, longtime partner of Russia in Afghanistan and in dealing with the Taliban, is also involved in the bounties scheme. 

It’s hard to review even this barebones timeline and not question why intelligence about Russian activities that was coming from US forces on the ground was being so consistently ignored by the White House as they relied on Russia as a trusted counterpart for getting the hell out of Syria and Afghanistan — a series of decisions that have notably provided advantage to the Kremlin and its near term objectives. Because, as Mattis lightly warned, it isn’t just that President Trump is ignoring the threat from Russia — he is disarming us against it. More units that should be on the frontlines come home. More threats are downplayed. The battlefield is reordered. 

* * * * *

Ultimately, the revelation about the bounties is a humiliation the Trump administration is willing to ignore because Trump’s abandonment of US strategic interests called open-season on US forces everywhere long ago. 

He transmits his desire to withdraw from everywhere on twitter and his psychology is obvious to everyone. This creates opportunity for adversaries like Putin, who understand how incredibly simple it is to exploit his fears of being perceived as a loser. Putin knows if you escalate a conflict against US forces while Trump is president, he’ll run away from it as fast as he can. And it gets easier and easier for Trump to walk away from once-vital missions as the number of hollow men surrounding him and insulating him from accountability increases. 

In talking to Green Berets about this story, one of them laughed. “I take the bounty story as a huge compliment!” he said. “I loved my bounty in Iraq.” The point, of course, was that having a bounty on your head meant you were highly effective — and highly feared by the enemy. For them, there was no greater commendation for the behind-the-scenes missions they crank through all around the world. 

The Syria withdrawal was a rare moment when members of US Special Forces publicly voiced their disgust at being pulled off a vital mission, but this sentiment about staying the course is broadly held. Green Berets have a grueling deployment schedule that reflects the high demand for what they do and the increased global reliance on special operators to tackle complex problem sets. But their deep belief in their core mission is never in doubt even as its importance expands. 

In recent comments, Gen. Richard Clarke, Commander of US Special Operations Command, talked about the new reality of expanding Chinese and Russian influence and the need for fusing the essential objective of great power competition into other missions: “Going after [extremists] is not mutually exclusive to competing with great powers... [Countering Russia and China] is about influence, and SOF has a unique and valuable role in this.” As Russia expands aggressively into Africa with unprecedented official and “mercenary” military deployments, for example, it gets harder to avoid Syria-like confrontations in more locales. And this requires a global strategy on Russia that we simply do not have. 

Our own tendency to be narrow and theater-focused is a vast weakness in evaluating the scope of what the Kremlin manages to do with an economy of resources and a stomach for failures interrupted by startling successes. Because while very few American policymakers understand the everywhereness of this conflict — and feel overwhelmed by it if you try to explain it — the Kremlin orients itself Enders Game-style, with Moscow at the top of the map, and everything else downward and outward. It’s not Ukraine and Syria and Libya and Afghanistan and the Baltics: its all one bloody interconnected thing going outward from the center. This orientation provides a vector for action behind a simple set of strategic objectives advanced by aggressive multi-domain operations which are more likely than not informal and deniable. They conduct operations to probe what the response will be. To test us. To influence us. This requires us to constantly vet intelligence against this threat matrix — in all corners of the globe — and it’s just not clear that we do. 

Allies of the President consistently downplay the threat the Kremlin presents, when actually, as the bounty story reminds, the opposite should be true. If Russia is willing to collaborate with organizations like ISIS and the Taliban to advance their own strategic objectives, and if they are willing to pay terrorists to kill Americans to knock us off our own, then every out-of-pattern attack on US forces and assets overseas requires analysis through this added dimension. Every single one. 

In Europe, in Latin America, in Asia, in Africa, special operations forces, and in particular US Special Forces, are the dozens of small pins scattered across the otherwise waning map of US global influence — the pins that gather intelligence on emergent threats, evaluate and conduct unconventional warfare, and actively advance US strategic objectives in quiet and practical ways. “Green Berets are the only line left in the sand. Everyone else is there — but it’s our job. We’re the tripwire.” These are capabilities we should be enhancing given the enemies we face. 

Instead, against the recommendations of military commanders and in many cases relevant Congressional oversight, the Trump administration is pulling these forces off missions. In Syria and Afghanistan, Africa and Latin America, these forces are being “reassigned.”

Everywhere we butt up against expanding Russian influence, Trump makes an argument that we have somewhere else to be. His team makes the right noises about great power competition, but at the end of the day they’ve fired most of the people who believed in it and have no vision for it, let alone a desire to expend resources.

The thing that seems the hardest for people — including, it seems, US presidents — to accept in the years since the annexation of Crimea is that the Kremlin doesn’t really care if they get caught doing bad things because they don’t believe anyone will do anything about their rogue behavior. They shot a passenger jet full of Europeans out of the sky and paid no price. They assassinate opponents at will across Europe. They attack and undermine our elections and cognitive security. They supported ISIS to save Assad. This has cost them little. The lie of “working with the Kremlin on common interests” had a body count long before they were paying direct bounties — it just makes everyone feel a whole hell of a lot better to ignore it. 

I didn’t need a classified intelligence briefing to know the truth of what Russia was doing in Afghanistan, and neither does anyone else. Enough of it is out in the open. The Kremlin wanted the environment in Afghanistan destabilized, just because they could. It doesn’t matter which deaths they paid for directly, and which indirectly. They supported the Taliban to kill our guys so we would leave. Full stop. The Trump administration had all this detail, and didn’t care. Nay, they huffed more Kremlin happy gas about cooperating on counterterrorism while the Kremlin supported a lot of terrorists that killed a lot of Americans. We may never know the full measure of this harm.

We are owed an explanation for why the long pattern of Kremlin behavior in Afghanistan and Syria alone has earned no response from the White House — whether it be by this administration, or the next. The Trump administration’s blind spot for the Kremlin’s use of terrorists and irregular forces to target Americans stands in stark contrast to the logic they offered in justification of the assassination of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in January. In that case, they argued that Soleimani directing attacks on American personnel using proxies, terrorists, and other irregular elements made him a legitimate target for a counterstrike — that, essentially, by being the commander of unconventional forces, he was fair game in an unconventional war being waged by the Iranians on us. At the core of this — if they meant any of it — is the beginning of a new way of thinking about how we fight wars with adversaries who prefer unconventional means. But first among those is Russia. And so far everyone in this administration has somewhere else to be the second the Kremlin is mentioned. 

We are deep in a crisis of US leadership — in the weakest position, in terms of international influence and power projection, that we’ve been in since before the Second World War. Trump is cascading failure — and nowhere is there a vision or orientation for how to correct this course that realistically assesses how much damage he has done. The situation on the ground has changed significantly almost anywhere in the world you look, with American adversaries in ascendance, and allies in upheaval. Understanding Russia is just one piece of this. Understanding the tools we have against this is another. But we have already lost so much time. 

SFC Mihail Golin is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery with a Bronze Star for his “real deal, heroic sh*t.” It’s hard not to think about the knowledge and background he could have brought to the mission set in the Baltics, where he had been born before he made himself an American. I never knew him. But everyone knew about him. Because that last line in the sand is pretty thin, and you hope — despite the odds, even though you know not to — that somebody else is going to show up for the war before it’s too late. 

— MM

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Special thanks to the Arlington National Cemetery press office for the photo of SFC Golin’s headstone.