Aleksi Ivanovich Smirnov, an orphan and a thief, has been living by his wits and surviving below the ever-watchful eye of the Soviet system until his luck finally runs out. In 1936, at the age of 16, Aleksi is caught by the NKVD and transported to Moscow. There, in the notorious headquarters of the secret police, he is given a choice: be trained and inserted as a spy into Nazi Germany under the identity of his best friend, the long lost nephew of a high-ranking Nazi official, or disappear forever in the basement of the Lubyanka. For Aleksi it's no choice at all.
Lieutenant Mike Galway takes command of his first platoon, and it is not at all what he bargained for. What he anticipated was the challenge of training a unit of disciplined Marine infantrymen to go to war. Instead he finds himself responsible for a group of unruly American teenagers, for whom he has to become a combination of surrogate father, psychologist, high school principal, marriage counselor, financial advisor, conflict mediator, and drug and alcohol therapist.