Tinker, tailor, soldier, embed: a photographic essay curated by Flint Driscoll

Well here it is, people. The one I’ve been promising you. The dog and pony show. As some of you will know, I recently went on a frontline embed with the world’s most elite, highly-trained and lavishly-equipped top-secret special forces unit, one which I understand is currently engaged, behind the scenes, in at least half a dozen conflicts world-wide.  I am both honored and proud to be able to share these precious images with you!

A couple of caveats: because of the extreme secrecy of this unit, I had to agree not to reveal what it is called, or which government it serves (if any – my lips are sealed!). To protect their identities, as well as details of their equipment, uniform and training, I am not allowed to show you photographs of any of its members, or reveal the theater of warfare in which this particular operation was conducted.

Fortunately, I was packing a back-up camera that day (a Leica, natch), so my liaison officer – an old friend, let’s call him Captain Jones – was able to record my part in the operation for posterity. Look and learn, people!

(click on images to enlarge!)

1. Flint Driscoll: Suited and booted

Here I am suited and booted and ready to rock. Today’s mission: to sweep and clear a complex of buildings and rooftops on the perimeter of our base, which cannot be named for security reasons. Let’s just say the AO is hot, hot, hot, and we are definitely expecting rain!

2. Flint Driscoll: Light 'em up!

Time to light up before we move out. Normally I smoke a pipe, or a Florida-made Cuban, but in combat scenarios I usually favor a Dominican cigarillo. It gets the job done.

3. Flint Driscoll: Check out my pants

I brought some “smoke” along for the bad guys too. Check out  my pants. Can you tell what it is yet?

4. Flint Driscoll whips out his Python

You should have seen Captain Jones’s face when I whipped this sucker out! He almost dropped the camera! That’s right – it’s a Colt Python .357! Yeah, baby!

I know what you’re thinking: what’s with the six-gun, Flint? Why not pack your .40 Glock 22? After all, you’re going to war, dude!

But somehow the Colt just felt right that day – warm and analogue, like listening to Pat Boone on vinyl, the way God intended… And what it lacks in sheer fire-power it makes up for on reliability. A good revolver will never let you down.

Geraldo Rivera gave me that gun. He was wearing it in a concealed holster that day that he opened Al Capone’s old vault. Just in case things got weird in there.

5. Flint Driscoll: health and safety

I hadn’t told Captain Jones and his men that I was bringing my own heat to the party, and I could tell they were in awe of it. It’s a lot of gun, even for hardened soldiers.

They went into a little huddle and then asked me if I’d let them mind the bullets for me. Some health and safety bullshit, they said. They looked so impressed as I waved the piece around, demonstrating its action, that I hadn’t got the heart to tell them no.

I didn’t mention that I still had my back-up Walther PPK .32 snug in its ankle-holster. Better to have and not need than need and not have…

6. Flint Driscoll holds his gun

Bullets or not, it still feels damn good to take your Python in your hand. Just so long as no one else finds out that it’s not really loaded…

7. Flint Driscoll takes point

When you are embedded with fighting men, a strong bond of camaraderie soon forms. You are all in the same boat, and everyone has got to pull his own weight. I wouldn’t have asked these men to do anything I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself, so I offered to take point as we prepared to move out onto the rooftops. They looked at each other, shrugged – a gesture of silent respect – and gave the ageless answer that I’ve been getting to all my questions, from soldiers of all nations, in all theaters, ever since I first went to war: “Whatever”.

8. Flint Driscoll walks into sunlight

I walked into sunlight. It’s a hard, tight feeling, being the first through that door, or over the top of that foxhole, knowing that as likely as not a sniper’s cross-hairs are already quadra-secting your image. The crazy thing is, after a while… you start to like it.

9. Flint Driscoll holds the line

The squad leader raises a silent hand, everyone freezes. He pushes the hand, palm down, towards the ground, and then twists it slowly around his head. Go to ground. All round cover. And even though I am not formally part of this squad I find myself caught in the age-old dance, taking my place on the perimeter, my own arc of observation, semper fideles (Pipe down, Marines! You don’t own it. I have a degree in Latin. Do you?). The stuff you learn on ROTC, it never leaves you. Sometimes, I wish it would…

10. Flint Driscoll weeps for the madness of war

A lull in the operation, and something catches my eye, and in an instant, hardened though I am, I feel a sob rising in my throat. On a bullet-swept roof-top in [redacted] I find myself face to face with my old adversary, the dove of peace (circled). Tears fill my eyes. When will this madness end?

11. Flint Driscoll: It could have been me

Some days you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you. On this mission, there was no contact. But the danger was ever-present. Had I been there only five months earlier, a bullet would have passed through the space right where my head is now. The rust tells its own sad, slow story. Ours not to reason why.

12. Flint Driscoll: Victory!

Another day, another op. Quartered safe out of here, back inside our perimeter, the tension explodes into boyish exuberance. Perhaps, perhaps the terrorists also feel this same joy, when they complete a mission? We are not so different, they and I? No. They are bad. But as I hump back to the VIP billet, a phrase still haunts me. A phrase I’ve been hearing all my professional life, whispered behind my back. “It’s a dog and pony show”, I’ve heard it said, on a hundred trips, to a hundred different compounds. “He’s Flint Driscoll. Give him the dog and pony show. He deserves it.” But I never saw no dog. They never showed me any pony. I want my own dog and pony show. Then, maybe, I can finally go home.