Day in the Life of a U.S. Drone Operator

JOHN HUDSON533 Views8:48 AM ET

You wouldn’t think of suburban New York as a battlefront for the war in Afghanistan, but for the growing number of U.S. drone operators at the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, that’s exactly what it is. In today’s New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller interviews the pilots who sit in office chairs all day firing missiles at militants 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan. It’s a surreal-sounding job where life and death decisions precede routine trips to pick up the kids or shop for groceries. Take the experience of Col. D. Scott Brenton who targets Afghan insurgents from the comfort of suburban Syracuse, a vastly different environment than his days in Iraq. Per Bumiller:

When he was deployed in Iraq, “you land and there’s no more weapons on your F-16, people have an idea of what you were just involved with.” Now he steps out of a dark room of video screens, his adrenaline still surging after squeezing the trigger, and commutes home past fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to help with homework — but always alone with what he has done.

“It’s a strange feeling,” he said. “No one in my immediate environment is aware of anything that occurred.”

But some things don’t change at all. “Afterward, just like the old days, he compartmentalizes,” Bumiller writes. “I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy… I have a duty, and I execute the duty,” Brenton says. Interestingly, the biggest misconception the drone pilots cite about their job is similar to what soldiers serving in the field also have noted: This is not like some video game. “I don’t have any video games that ask me to sit in one seat for six hours and look at the same target,” one pilot tells the newspaper. The tendency of video games to glamorize and sensationalize the actual experience of fighting in wars was maybe best scrutinized in a satirical Onion segment on the latest version of Modern Warfare which features such action-movie sequences as “awaiting orders” and “repairing trucks”:


Read the whole Times story here.