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The Wolves of Helmand

A View from Inside the Den of Modern War

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At turns poignant, funny, philosophical, and raw—but always real—The Wolves of Helmand is both a heartfelt homage to the Marine brotherhood with whom Biggio served and an expression of respect and love for the people of Afghanistan who ultimately trusted, shared, and appreciated their purpose.

Ten years after serving his country as a U.S. Marine, Captain Frank “Gus” Biggio signed up once again because he missed the brotherhood of the military. Leaving behind his budding law career, his young wife, and newborn son, he was deployed to Helmand Province—the most violent region in war-torn Afghanistan—for reasons few would likely understand before reading this book. 

Riven by conflict and occupation for centuries because of its strategic location, the region he landed in was, at that time, a hotbed of Taliban insurgency. As a participant in the landmark U.S.-led Operation Khanjar, Biggio and his fellow Marines were executing a new-era military strategy. Focused largely on empowerment of the local population, the offensive began with a troop surge designed to thwart the Taliban, but was more importantly followed by the restoration of the local government and real-time capacity building among the withdrawn and destitute Afghan people.

The Wolves of Helmand is unlike other war memoirs. It takes us less into the action—though there is that too—and more into the quiet places of today’s war zones. Yes, you’ll read of our Marines’ stealth arrival in a single night, our advanced weaponry, and our pop-up industrial village command centers. You’ll read, as well, about the ambushed patrols and the carnage of IEDs. But you will also read of the persistence, humility, ruggedness, loneliness, tedium, diplomacy, and humanity of our Marines’ jobs there, which more than anything else reveals the magnitude of even the smallest victories.  

Completed years after the author’s return from his mission, The Wolves of Helmand is most of all a decade-long self-examination of a warrior’s heart, conscience, and memory. Whether intended or not, Biggio’s deep reflections and innate honesty answer every question you’ve ever wanted to ask about life and death in war—and even questions you probably never thought to ask. 

What calls a warrior to duty? 

What makes, sustains, plagues, and even breaks a warrior?

These are bigger questions than the ones impolite society pokes around when a veteran returns home—Did you kill anyone? Did you have to go? Why would you fight for another country? Why were we even there?

Yet the answers to those queries are here, too, in this thoughtful memoir that will make you think about war, family, love, and loss.

Frank (Gus) Biggio served on active duty in the United States Marine Corps from mid-1993 until December 1997 after graduating from Denison University. He then returned to his native Ohio where he earned a law degree from Case Western Reserve University. Biggio then lived and worked in New York City and Washington, D.C., picking up a degree from Georgetown University along the way. Nearly ten years after first leaving the service, he rejoined the Marine Corps in October 2007. With his country at war, the same itch that drove him to volunteer in the 1990s drove his desire to serve again. His writing about the military and politics has appeared in the The Plain Dealer, The Washington Post, The Weekly Standard, Military Times, and the online journal, War on the Rocks. The Wolves of Helmand is his first book. Through his work, he spends his time between Switzerland and Washington, D.C., but has always called Ohio home.

The Wolves of Helmand will transport readers to another world that tens of thousands of American service members have seared in their memories, but few of their civilian counterparts will ever experience. It’s a world that can be harsh and deadly, but also, filled with adventure, loyalty, and good humor. Frank Biggio does us all a service by sharing his version of that reality in all of its complicated glory.

– DAN LAMOTHE, award-winning Washington Post journalist and frequent chronicler of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan

An intimate history lesson that goes beyond war—a story that teaches everyone what they need to know about the bravest men and women who defend our way of life and are willing to sacrifice their own. A rich, personal account of the human side of the Afghanistan War, revealed through the lens of the author who lived it—exposing how the power of human connection sustains our nation’s warriors on the battlefield and when they return.

– MAJ. SCOTT HUESING (USMC RET.), bestselling author of Echo in Ramadi: The Firsthand Story of U.S. Marines in Iraq’s Deadliest City

Few other books covering combat can so effortlessly bridge from the grimy daily tactical fight to the strategic with equal impact. Masterful and informative account of the good days and bad, the triumphs and the tragedies, the humor, compassion, and the resilience of those who have worn the cloth of our nation in this longest war. Prepare to be transported to Helmand Province from the very opening pages of this exceptional work.

– Lieutenant General Lawrence D. Nicholson (USMC, retired), former commander of the Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Afghanistan 2009––2010

The Wolves of Helmand is the most accessible memoir of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, written with such clarity that it will transfix the widest audience. Wolves is both a journalistic feat, with superior writing quality and historical perspective, and the personal tale of a civilian who could not shake his love of the Marines or the call to combat.

– Owen West, former U.S. Marine and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict, author of The Snake Eaters: Counterinsurgency Advisors in Combat

Frank “Gus” Biggio has written a different and much-needed kind of war story: one that is layered and shows the complexities of what frontline U.S. Marines experienced in southern Afghanistan during a crucial time of troop surges and an entrenched Taliban. Biggio’s firsthand account, unvarnished and heartfelt and honest, deserves wide readership—in military circles but also for general readers who want to better understand America’s longest war, one that is not yet over. This is a book that will stay with you.

– Kael Weston, former U.S. State Department advisor, author of The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan

In The Wolves of Helmand Gus Biggio recreates Helmand as it was, but also, and more importantly, as both we and our Afghan partners wanted it to be. Between those two visions lies all the “mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love” that Tim O’Brien ascribes to war. Above all, Biggio’s story is a testament to the fact that we can work together to live up to our ideals.

– Will Mackin, former U.S. Navy Pilot and Special Warfare Tactical Air Controller, author of Bring Out the Dog

What you are about to read is Gus’s effort to keep breathing deeply, before, during, and after the summer of 2009. Read carefully; he has much to teach us. Feel the texture of the details; envision the landscape that he paints. Every battlefield and its surroundings are terribly beautiful worlds unto their own. Knowing that across the world and ten years later, the village of Nawa may not look tremendously different than when Gus and I arrived, I hope that you will visit this one with care. You’ll want to be as present in reading this book as he was in telling his story—and breathing alongside him in his journey to Helmand and home.

– Gen. Stanley Allen McChrystal (USA, RET); former Commander of Joint Special Operations Command; Commander, International Security Assistance Force; and United States Forces—Afghanistan