War re­porter for a day

Delta Force taught me how to drive a Ta­hoe. I brought a drone to film it.

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Contents - BY E ZR A DYER

Film­ing Delta Force The new cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists The app that turns ev­ery­one into a re­porter Me and my tech Roxy Burger’s must-haves To boldly go UCT trains up space sci­en­tists Tur­bu­lence ahead Fly­ing into drone law The con­fi­dent trav­eller There’s an app for it

FILM­ING DELTA FORCE op­er­a­tives presents two prob­lems. First, we can’t show their faces, lest any of their ne­far­i­ous coun­ter­parts ID some­one with whom they might have a mor­tal grudge. Sec­ond, and it’s an ob­vi­ous one: night-time sneak at­tacks, a Delta Force spe­cial­ity, hap­pen in the dark. But we’ll make it work.

My cam­era­man, Ed Ricker, and I are in a blacked-out Chevy Ta­hoe blaz­ing through North Carolina corn­fields to­wards the Range Com­plex, a 770-hectare train­ing fa­cil­ity out­side the gi­gan­tic Fort Bragg mil­i­tary com­plex. Our driver, name redacted, is an ac­tive Delta op­er­a­tive, one of the US Army elite spe­cial­is­ing in counter-ter­ror­ism op­er­a­tions. Such as, say, hostage ex­trac­tion. At night. Usu­ally in coun­tries that the US might not ac­tu­ally be at war with, and thus bereft of avail­able mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles. Those cri­te­ria make said Chevro­let par­tic­u­larly use­ful to Delta Force, a re­la­tion­ship Ed and I are here to doc­u­ment. And when it’s time for me to learn to drive like these guys, I’ll be glad the cam­era is here. It will serve as a sort of bionic ex­ter­nal mem­ory so I can con­cen­trate on hus­tling these mall-crawler SUVS through the cor­ners.

A few days ear­lier, at a Lit­tle League base­ball game, I asked a Spe­cial Forces friend where the Ta­hoe and Sub­ur­ban fit in the mil­i­tary toolbox. “We use them in per­mis­sive en­vi­ron­ments,” he said. “Places like Colom­bia or Saudi Ara­bia, where you don’t need an up­ar­moured Humvee.” But you might need to pay some­one a sur­prise visit.

To demon­strate: I grab the pas­sen­ger seat next to a Delta guy, name redacted, in a Ta­hoe equipped with an in­frared light bar on the roof. It’s night-time and, from the out­side, the light bar doesn’t look like it’s do­ing any­thing. But when I flip down the IR mon­o­cle on my hel­met, the road ahead of us bursts into view as if our head­lights were on. And I guess they are, but only for us. In­vis­i­ble head­lights? That’s so awe­some.

As the driver blitzes the farm roads, my per­spec­tive is like peer­ing through the key- hole on the front door to Dorothy’s house as it flies up into the tor­nado. Road! Corn! Trac­tor! It all rushes for­ward with­out con­text. I can feel our driver left-foot-brak­ing into turns, smoothly pitch­ing the Ta­hoe’s weight on to the front axle and coax­ing some rear-end ro­ta­tion on the dirt.

We pull back into the park­ing lot. My turn to drive. I swap my mon­o­cle for a set of binoc­u­lars, adding all-im­por­tant depth per­cep­tion to my night-vi­sion ex­pe­ri­ence. Through the gog­gles, the ter­rain is an eerie green, the pe­riph­ery blurred, but the cen­tre sharp. I’m not try­ing to repli­cate a Delta Force pace, but I quickly ac­cli­ma­tise to this view of the world. Who needs the vis­i­ble spec­trum?

But, from the back seat, the dark is an is­sue for our video. Ed’s Pana­sonic AG-DVX200 can shoot in in­frared, but the re­sult doesn’t repli­cate my green-tinged

per­spec­tive. Still, we get the shot, his ghostly view doc­u­ment­ing that, yes, you can in fact drive at night with no head­lights.

But even the un­us­able footage helps me. When I sit down later to write this story, I won’t re­mem­ber whether it was a trac­tor or an ex­ca­va­tor on the side of the road, or which rally school Name Redacted said he went to. The video will know. It’s dif­fer­ent than if I were shoot­ing my­self. When­ever I see some­one shoot­ing a first-per­son video of, say, a roller-coaster ride, I feel bad for them be­cause they’re not re­ally im­mers­ing them­selves in the ex­pe­ri­ence. But if some­one else is hold­ing the cam­era, you can im­merse your­self even deeper. In­stead of men­tally cat­a­logu­ing every mo­ment I want to write about, I fo­cus on the ex­hil­a­ra­tion of the green night fly­ing at the wind­shield.

And be­cause we have video, I don’t have to care­fully de­scribe ev­ery­thing I saw from that Ta­hoe. It’s all out there if you want to see it. I’ll write it the best I can – and here it is! – but with Ed here, I don’t need to be a cam­era.

It all works be­cause our sub­ject has a spe­cial place in video. We’ve all seen enough TV, both of the re­al­ity and scripted kind, to know that a fleet of big SUVS sig­ni­fies some­thing’s go­ing down. Sure, maybe it’s just the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor en route to a meet­ing with the Cheese En­zyme Coun­cil. But maybe it’s not. Maybe some­body’s about to get a ride in one of those big SUVS, but they just don’t know it yet.

Our video, par­tic­u­larly the Bournemovie drone footage of SUVS kick­ing up dust, will show that. For me, though, writ­ing this story means look­ing into some­one else’s job. I live near here and a lot of these guys are my neigh­bours, yet I don’t re­ally know what they do. And what they do is se­cre­tive and dan­ger­ous, honourable and ex­cit­ing. Driv­ing on dirt at 100 km/h with no head­lights is just a frac­tion of it. If you don’t be­lieve me, there’s video.

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