FAYETTEVILLE — For many on the roads of North Carolina, an approaching Chevrolet Suburban usually carries an implied “Child On Board” sign. That Chevy Tahoe wheeling through the parking lot is a symbol of its older sibling’s origins the suburbs. But, when you see a black Suburban or Tahoe approaching in a downtown area, perceptions change. Could that be the governor? A celebrity? The ubiquitous large SUVs from Chevrolet are the mode of transportation favored across the country because of the legroom and cargo space they provide, from soccer moms toting their VIPs to security details moving elected officials.
Chevrolet brought a group of journalists from across the country to North Carolina to experience these vehicles in a new light or lack thereof. In September 2016, Chevrolet announced that it was expanding its special Midnight Edition package to the Tahoe and the Suburban for the 2017 model year. The blacked-out package includes special wheels, roof rack rails, grill inserts, and Chevrolet bow-tie badges. The Midnight Edition models can be paired with only one exterior color black.
These new-look people movers are now available for purchase at dealerships across North Carolina. But the testing and inspiration for these vehicles has a backstory that starts in Baghdad and ends in the backcountry of Cumberland County outside Fayetteville.
While the new Premier luxury package on the Suburban and Tahoe is aimed at the “about town” crowd, the Midnight edition is aimed at a more aggressive audience. Beyond the color features, the Z-71 off-road package on the Midnight SUVs features off-road tires and high front end clearance to give the Midnight Z-71 the meanest front end of any stock Chevy.
To showcase these rugged features, Chevrolet brought former members of the Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, also known as Delta Force, to put the Midnight Edition through the paces in a less-than-conventional dirt road track on the grounds of TigerSwan, a North Carolina company focused on global security and stability operations. Before that experience, journalists would be taking a more conventional distance drive from Raleigh to Fayetteville with retired special operators along to discuss their experience with Chevy’s large SUVs.
The first of these operators, Jim Reese, the founder and chairman of TigerSwan, gave the intro to the Midnight Editions and provided a new perspective on suburban travel in a Chevrolet. While introducing the retired operators that would be riding to Fayetteville, Reese said that Delta Force training was about “brilliance in the basics.” Basic tasks such as shooting and driving are the most-used skills of a special forces operator. Performing these actions under mounting stress is the difference in life or death situations for elite soldiers. Reese said his unit eschewed the complicated so that they could win with simple plans executed perfectly.
Reese, who retired from the Army as a Lt. Col., told the audience of journalists about a short drive he took from Baghdad International Airport to downtown Baghdad while he was serving in Delta Force. Reese said the drive into town was uneventful along Route Irish, a 7.5-mile stretch of highway that links the Green Zone to the Baghdad Airport. The ride back, however, was reminiscent of “Blackhawk Down.”
Reese recalled that a senior officer and he were traveling at more than 100 mph on “the most dangerous highway in the world” when his Suburban took heavy fire and Reese was shot in the arm. With the entire front end of the Chevy shredded, Reese said his basic, but enhanced, Delta Force training took over. Delta operators are trained that when you are taking fire or are in trouble, the first thing you do is “get off the X, whatever X is.” Reese forced his passenger’s head down in the passenger seat and got off the X. On run-flat tires, Reese traversed the remaining distance on Route Irish and got himself and his lucky passenger to a medical unit. Reese said the block of the engine was riddled with bullet holes, but ran long enough to get them to safety.
IN THE FIELD
For most North Carolinians, the drive from Raleigh to Fayetteville in a Suburban is familiar, even if you haven’t taken U.S. 1 in a while. The action started when we pulled into TigerSwan’s elite training complex called “The Range Complex” (not exactly at an undisclosed location since TigerSwan provides custom training there to law enforcement, corporate clients and the public, in addition to its unique employees).
After a shock-and-awe entry by the Midnight Editions that included a simulated attack on a terrorist safe house and a demonstration and brief training session at the firing range, the event turned toward a more familiar eastern North Carolina tradition barbecue. For many out-of-town journalists, Southern hospitality and good N.C. barbecue was possibly the biggest treat of all. As day turned to night, the journalists wondered when we would see the SUVs in real action. As the banana pudding was served, Reese emerged with a new piece of non-Chevy technology night vision goggles.
What ensued was a master class on driving in tough conditions. Journalists were fitted with night vision helmets, and the retired operators showed off their training in Midnight Edition Tahoes and Suburbans that were specially programmed by Chevrolet to have no light in the cabin or outside. On an overcast night, we experienced the Midnight SUVs under stress that no one suffers on their shopping trip or even a climb up Grandfather Mountain. With speeds up to 85 mph on loose gravel and sand, the TigerSwan team gave us a taste of Reese’s escape down Route Irish.
Then it was our turn at the wheel. All I can say is that I have never been that fast in a cornfield in my life and I am from Randolph County where trucks and cornfields mix on a regular basis. But as a person who has experienced Suburban and Tahoe in more comfortable surroundings, I recognized that these SUVs were performing their basic tasks under mounting stress. Chevy accomplished the goal of displaying the “brilliance in the basics” for these vehicles, which account for one out of every two large SUVs sold in the U.S. each year. The same basic functions that families and VIPs trust on our highways are the same necessities that the government requires to keep State Department officials, military commanders and elite warriors on schedule and safe throughout the world.
While the styling of the Midnight Edition will appeal to those new car shoppers looking to dial up the aggressiveness of their vehicle, the basic capabilities of the 2017 Suburban and Tahoe, regardless of trim level, are the real features that shoppers keep coming back to.