Drone Pilot Quits Air Force

Disgusted Drone Pilot Quits Air Force


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The international community is outraged over the careless  devastation and lack of accountability of the U.S.’s drone program. At least  part of this uproar results from the institutionalized mystery surrounding these  flying killing machines. However, one former member of the U.S. military knows  the drone program all too well… and he’s harshly critical of it, too.

According to an NPR report, Brandon Bryant joined the military fresh out of  college in 2006 so that he could pay back his student loans. The U.S. Air Force  assigned Bryant to its Predator program where he was a sensor operator. Rather  than piloting traditional jets, however, Bryant captained drones.

Yes, you read that right: drones DO have pilots. While no one is actually  inside a drone, the technology is not yet so advanced that it can carry out  actions entirely by itself. As a result, Bryant found himself taking the helms –  from a computer located in a trailer in Las Vegas.

During his first mission, Bryant witnessed American troops dying via the  drone’s camera. He was helpless to do anything from his remote location, in part  due to the combatants’ proximity to U.S. soldiers. Instead, he was instructed to  fire a missile on a group of men away from the fighting.

“After the smoke clears, there’s a crater there and you can see body parts  from the people,” explained Bryant. And as powerful as the drone’s weaponry is,  death is not always instantaneous for its targets. “[One] guy… his left leg had  been taken off above the knee, and I watched him bleed out.”

Worst still, Bryant suspected these deaths were unnecessary. Although the men  were armed, their inactivity in the local fight led him to believe they had  weapons to defend themselves while living in a warzone. “These guys had no  hostile intent,” Bryant said. “In Montana, everyone has a gun. These guys could  have been local people that had to protect themselves. I think we jumped the  gun.” He noted that the official report later labeled these men as “enemy  combatants.”

When Bryant attempted to talk about what he experienced, he was met with  silence. In general, he reported, drone operators avoid discussing their work  even with each other.

The second time Bryant manned a drone attack, he fired on a house with  militants inside. As the missile cruised toward its target, Bryant watched a  child run next to the house. After the impact, Bryant saw no sign of the child.  This time, instead of getting emotional about his part in the casualties, he  went numb.

This numbness persisted for his remaining years of service. Bryant detached  himself from his work, adopting a perspective that, in warfare, “good guys can  die, bad guys can die, and innocents can die.”

Finally recognizing his unhealthy attitude toward killing, Bryant opted to  quit the Air Force. “I couldn’t do it anymore,” he said. “I stopped myself, and  I said that’s not me. I was taught to respect life, even if in the realities of  war we have to take it, it should be done with respect.”

Alas, the drone program has only grown since Bryant’s resignation. Obama’s  onetime counterterrorism adviser Michael Boyle recently suggested that the  administration may favor drone strikes over detention centers given the controversies surrounding places like Guantanamo Bay. Of  course, the U.S. government has got to be kidding itself if it thinks critics’  objections to torturing and holding potential terrorists indefinitely without  trial are assuaged by just outright killing suspects (and innocent bystanders)  with no questions asked. The only reason drone usage has not turned into the  full-scale scandal of Guantanamo Bay is due to the relative lack of  information.

As for Bryant, he is now a member of a veterans’ group where he says he is  finally experiencing the camaraderie he hoped the military would offer but was  unattainable in a Las Vegas trailer. Like many veterans, Bryant is currently  undergoing treatment for PTSD. Also like many veterans, Bryant is still  waiting to receive his benefits to cover this treatment.


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