by BRANTLEY HARGROVE of Texas Monthly
Inside a tidy, two-story brick house on a cul-de-sac in an upscale neighborhood in the suburbs of Dallas, Clint Emerson turned his back on me and raised his hands above his head. I lifted the Ruger 9mm pistol he had handed me moments before and pointed the barrel between his shoulder blades. It felt intensely unpleasant to level a gun, even an unloaded one, at a retired Navy SEAL, partly because of the fraught nature of the act but mostly because I was well aware of my lowly station in his taxonomic view of the world, which is divided into three classes: sheepdogs (soldiers), wolves (bad guys), and sheep (noncombatants such as myself). Even more unnerving was the fact that Emerson simply doesn’t look the part. He isn’t a bearish, physically imposing good ol’ boy with hands like catcher’s mitts, like the late Chris Kyle (a former SEAL teammate of his). Emerson is the other kind of operative, the nondescript guy who can disappear in a crowd, whom you don’t see coming until it is too late. In gray slacks and a crisp white button-down shirt, he could easily be mistaken for a 41-year-old desk jockey. He’s lean and slightly weathered, like a man who has spent some time in the desert.
Emerson, who retired in January after twenty years in the Navy, served most of his career as a SEAL. His team was the first into Afghanistan, then Iraq, which wasn’t as much of a culture shock for him as one might imagine: though he graduated from Plano Senior High, he largely grew up in Saudi Arabia, where his father worked for Saudi Aramco. “Westerners are not exactly treated the best in Saudi Arabia, and as a child I didn’t care much for the people or the culture,” he said. “As an adult, I understand their culture better and accept that we were the visitors. But it left me with a certain dislike that led to becoming a SEAL and a desire to go back as a soldier. Now that I’ve been back to the Middle East many times, I’ve noticed kids, a portion of them, looking at me with a familiar stare—one of distaste. The same stare I had cast many times on Saudi men.”
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Photo courtesy of MISTY KEASLER