Adonis Diaries

Archive for June 26th, 2013

Drone operator haunted
Richard Engel, Chief Foreign Correspondent, NBC News Former drone operator says he’s haunted by his part in more than 1,600 deaths

A former Air Force drone operator who says he participated in missions that killed more than 1,600 people remembers watching one of the first victims bleed to death.

Brandon Bryant says he was sitting in a chair at a Nevada Air Force base operating the camera when his team fired two missiles from their drone at three men walking down a road halfway around the world in Afghanistan. The missiles hit all three targets, and Bryant says he could see the aftermath on his computer screen – including thermal images of a growing puddle of hot blood.

“The guy that was running forward, he’s missing his right leg,” he recalled. “And I watch this guy bleed out and, I mean, the blood is hot.” As the man died his body grew cold, said Bryant, and his thermal image changed until he became the same color as the ground.

“I can see every little pixel,” said Bryant, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, “if I just close my eyes.”

Bryant, now 27, served as a drone sensor operator from 2006 to 2011, at bases in Nevada, New Mexico and in Iraq, guiding unmanned drones over Iraq and Afghanistan. Though he didn’t fire missiles himself, he took part in missions that he was told led to the deaths of an estimated 1,626 individuals.

In an interview with NBC News, he provided a rare first-person glimpse into what it’s like to control the controversial machines that have become central to the U.S. effort to kill terrorists.

He says that as an operator he was troubled by the physical disconnect between his daily routine and the violence and power of the faraway drones. “You don’t feel the aircraft turn,” he said. “You don’t feel the hum of the engine. You hear the hum of the computers, but that’s definitely not the same thing.”

At the same time, the images coming back from the drones were very real and very graphic.

“People say that drone strikes are like mortar attacks,” Bryant said. “Well, artillery doesn’t see this. Artillery doesn’t see the results of their actions. It’s really more intimate for us, because we see everything.

A self-described “naïve” kid from a small Montana town, Bryant joined the Air Force in 2005 at age 19. After he scored well on tests, he said a recruiter told him that as a drone operator he would be like the smart guys in the control room in a James Bond movie, the ones who feed the agent the information he needs to complete his mission.

He trained for three and a half months before participating in his first drone mission. Bryant operated the drone’s cameras from his perch at Nellis Air Force base in Nevada as the drone rose into the air just north of Baghdad.

Bryant and the rest of his team were supposed to use their drone to provide support and protection to patrolling U.S. troops. But he recalls watching helplessly as insurgents buried an IED in a road and a U.S. Humvee drove over it.

“We had no way to warn the troops,” he said. He later learned that three soldiers died.

And once he had taken part in a kill, any remaining illusions about James Bond disappeared. “Like, this isn’t a videogame,” he said. “This isn’t some sort of fantasy. This is war. People die.”

Courtesy Brandon Bryant. Brandon Bryant stands with a Predator drone in Nevada. He says that as an operator he was troubled by the physical disconnect between his daily routine and the violence and power of the faraway drones.

Bryant said that most of the time he was an operator, he and his team and his commanding officers made a concerted effort to avoid civilian casualties.

But he began to wonder who the enemy targets on the ground were, and whether they really posed a threat. He’s still not certain whether the three men in Afghanistan were really Taliban insurgents or just men with guns in a country where many people carry guns. The men were five miles from American forces arguing with each other when the first missile hit them.

“They (didn’t) seem to be in a hurry,” he recalled. “They (were) just doing their thing. … They were probably carrying rifles, but I wasn’t convinced that they were bad guys.“ But as a 21-year-old airman, said Bryant, he didn’t think he had the standing to ask questions.

He also remembers being convinced that he had seen a child scurry onto his screen during one mission just before a missile struck, despite assurances from others that the figure he’d seen was really a dog.

After participating in hundreds of missions over the years, Bryant said he “lost respect for life” and began to feel like a sociopath. He remembers coming into work in 2010, seeing pictures of targeted individuals on the wall – Anwar al-Awlaki and other al Qaeda and Taliban leaders — and musing, “Which one of these f_____s is going to die today?

In 2011, as Bryant’s career as a drone operator neared its end, he said his commander presented him with what amounted to a scorecard. It showed that he had participated in missions that contributed to the deaths of 1,626 people.

“I would’ve been happy if they never even showed me the piece of paper,” he said. “I’ve seen American soldiers die, innocent people die, and insurgents die. And it’s not pretty. It’s not something that I want to have — this diploma.”

Now that he’s out of the Air Force and back home in Montana, Bryant said he doesn’t want to think about how many people on that list might’ve been innocent: “It’s too heartbreaking.”

The Veterans Administration diagnosed him with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, for which he has undergone counseling. He says his PTSD has manifested itself as anger, sleeplessness and blackout drinking.

“I don’t feel like I can really interact with that average, everyday person,” he said. “I get too frustrated, because A) they don’t realize what’s going on over there. And B) they don’t care.”

He’s also reluctant to tell the people in his personal life what he was doing for five years. When he told a woman he was seeing that he’d been a drone operator, and contributed to the deaths of a large number of people, she cut him off. “She looked at me like I was a monster,” he said. “And she never wanted to touch me again.”

Related stories:

The thermostat and the frying pan analogy for various objectives

If you want to cool your house to 68 degrees Fahrenheit quickly, setting the thermostat to 62 degrees isn’t going to get it temperate any faster than if you set it to 68. It blows full cold until it hits the number, then it stops.

(For those down under where it is winter, the opposite is also true–extreme thermostat settings won’t warm you up any faster).

Frying pans don’t work that way. Turning the temperature on the burner all the way up will certainly heat up that pan faster.

Seth Godin posted this June 18, 2013:

There is significant pressure on marketers to get it done fast. Ah, an analogy!

And so the inclination to spend a lot, to race around, to turn the thermostat to its most extreme state.

All the yelling doesn’t build your brand faster.

In fact, it might do quite the opposite. Trusted brands don’t get there by spending their whole budget on one Super Bowl ad.

Valuable marketing campaigns are the result of time and user experience, not media and more media. Tweeting more often doesn’t make your tweets have more resonance.

On the other hand, product design and user interaction definitely benefit from the frying pan approach. Extraordinary products, remarkable stories, intense connection via user interaction–these things actually do scale quickly.

The movie business has seduced itself into believing that they can turn the thermostat to absolute zero and use a massive media push to make a moribund movie work. They can’t.

Movie business would be far better off putting the risk and the effort into making movies worth talking about instead.

Social media is a marathon, a gradual process in which you build a reputation.

The best time to start was a while ago. The second best time to start is today. But turning it up to 11 isn’t going to get you there faster.

The confrontation waiting to happen: The essential confrontation is with yourself

It’s not between you and your boss, your critics, your editor, your competition, your spouse or some other outsider.

You are your own biggest critic. And it takes time to observe and form your own ideas.

And your own biggest competitor.

Now that it’s easier than ever to pick yourself, the question is, “why haven’t you?”

And now that it’s easier to ignore the competition and become a category of one, the question is the same.

Our instinct is to externalize the forces that are holding us back, but in fact, that’s not the problem, is it?


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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