The New Mexico desert gets blistering hot, but inside the small windowless container where Brandon Bryant worked as a drone operator for the U.S. Air Force it stays a cool 63 degrees all year long.
Nicola Abé at der Spiegel spoke with Bryant, no longer in the Air Force, who relays a disturbing and tragic scene from his time inside that isolated container in the American desert.
Sixty-three finger numbing degrees and Bryant describes sitting with a group of other pilots looking at more than a dozen computer monitors. The crew are directing drones over Afghanistan 6,250 miles away and the screens jump with a two to five second delay, as infrared video sent from the UAVs whips through the air to New Mexico.
When the order to fire on a target arrives, Bryant paints the roof of a hut with the laser that will guide in a Hellfire missile fired by the pilot beside him.
“These moments are like in slow motion,” he says to Abé.
No doubt, because on this occasion Bryant says a child walked from behind the building at the last second. Too late for him to do anything else but ask the other pilot, “Did we just kill a kid?”
From der Spiegel:
“Yeah, I guess that was a kid,” the pilot replied.
“Was that a kid?” they wrote into a chat window on the monitor.
Then, someone they didn’t know answered, someone sitting in a military command center somewhere in the world who had observed their attack. “No. That was a dog,” the person wrote.
They reviewed the scene on video. A dog on two legs?
The article follows another widely publicized story from the Marine Times about children killed by Americans on Afghan soil published just weeks ago. While obviously a tragedy for the victims and their families, Bryant describes the incredible toll taken on U.S. troops required to obey orders producing such dire results.
From his mother’s couch in Missoula, Montana Bryant talks of his 6,000 Air Force flight hours and says he used to dream in infrared. ”I saw men, women and children die during that time,” he says. “I never thought I would kill that many people. In fact, I thought I couldn’t kill anyone at all.”
The three part article digs deeply into the life of a troubled former servicemember and the war-fighting policies that don’t look to be changing anytime soon.