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Confessions of an American drone warrior

October 25th, 2013
07:18 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

The first time Brandon Bryant fired a Hellfire missile from his U.S. drone, it was a cold January day.

“His right leg was severed,” Bryant told CNN’s Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour. “I watched him bleed out from his femoral artery.”

“It was shocking,” he said. “It's pixelated, and it doesn't really look real. But it was real.”

Bryant, of course, was sitting thousands of miles away in the American desert.

After years as a drone sensor operator, he became disillusioned with the career, and turned down a hefty bonus to continue.

“You're still in the war zone and regardless of whether you're physically there or not,” he told Gorani. “America wants an antiseptic war. … The reality is that nothing is clean.”

Everyone understands that troops on patrol in Afghanistan are “in” the war; for drone operators, the picture – at least in the public lexicon – has seemingly been more convoluted.

“There's a level of intimacy that goes with every action in war,” Bryant said. “It's completely psychological. You hear the hum of a computer. You don't feel the missile coming off the rail; you watch it.”

And for Bryant, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, it was no less damaging.

“All the drone operators, they get a bad rap,” he said. “It’s not a video game. … It is real life, and these people need just as much help.”

The “video game” aspect of his job was reinforced by his trainers, he said.

“The training was more imaginary than real,” he told Gorani. “We were consistently told when I was going through training that our job was to kill people and break things.”

“There's a huge mental health issue here that no one wants to seem to address,” Bryant said. “They're human beings; they're affected by this just as much as people on the ground.”

Ironically, the reputation of military types – deserved or not – to discourage soldiers from seeking psychological guidance held true for warriors sitting in shipping containers in the Nevada and New Mexico deserts, according to Bryant.

“We were told to shut up and color. We couldn't talk to a psychologist,” he told Gorani. “And if we talked to anyone, we'd lose our clearance.”

No doubt because it appears antiseptic, the U.S.’s drone program is extremely popular among Americans.

“I'm never going to compare myself to the guys on the ground,” Bryant said. “They're much … braver than I am.”

But “if you are one of those people that are for [the drone program] then you need to hold your leadership accountable for their actions,” he said.

“You can't give someone that amount of power and expect them to use it wisely without being put in check.”


Filed under:  Drone • Latest Episode
soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. Dr Tod Policandriotes

    Drones are a problem because at some point, they will be completely controlled by a computer program rather than a human directly controlling them. Sounds like the terminator. We are treading ground on some very questionable tactics of warfare. It stops when those that want war are gone, which won't be in my short lifetime and that is very sad.

    October 25, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • R. S. Godwin

      Agreed, the defense industry have moved pilots into drones to prevent loss, and if these pilots are experiences injuries such as PTSD and blowing whistles regarding this, then the next move will be to remove human decision making and therefore the fragile human conscience from the process. A computer algorithm doesn't have unpredictable hesitation, isn't vulnerable to psychological damage or have post-war medical needs, and doesn't blow whistles on its command or function. What struck me even more bothersome is the reporters statement right at the end, that this is a "Rare, rare opinion..". why does she say that? I didn't see polling results from a thousand drone pilots in support of her bias. At the end of the day, the responsibility of having taken another humans life is right there upon the shoulders and under the finger of a human and a humans comprehension. Personally, I wouldn't want it any other way. It must always be difficult for people to kill one another, and it must always be futile to try and remove oneself by doing so through a remote control and monitor.

      October 28, 2013 at 5:42 am |
  2. cayuse

    Warrior for killing unarmed children?

    Of course they need psychological help. BUT FIRST THEY NEED TO SEE the 2 presidents that allowed this to happen

    PUT TO DEATH.

    Of course, I am against the death penalty, but taking the Unalienable Right of Life NEEDS to be stopped and viiolator need to go to Prison.for life.

    TRUSTED with the POWER of the President of the UNITED STATES requires responsibility and that responsibility requires prison for Torure, Assassiantion w/o a Trial and Drone Killings.

    Cease and Desist this BEHAVIOR free the 19 year old's and put BUSH and O BOMB A in prison

    October 25, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  3. Scott Stromboe

    This guy is possibly retarded??? Missiles kill people. And YOUR JOB is to KILL PEOPLE to avoid American soldiers getting killed. So quit being a P&^$# and do your job, or ASK FOR A TRANSFER IF YOU CAN'T STOMACH WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!!!!!

    October 25, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Pakistani

      Americans kill people in their country,in their homes in their beds. Killing is killing u cant justify it. 9/11 is American NEW WORLD ORDER plan and this war is all going on for that. Why the americans are in Afghanistan in first place. One day you will see that there will be no place for americans to hide. You will get what you have done to others.

      October 27, 2013 at 9:02 am |
      • Breezio

        I think the time is past due for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan. But you imply that the Americans are doing the indiscriminate killing. No. Afghani and Pakistani taliban have killed far more Afghanis than the U.S. have. And when the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, it will get worse. Just like it did in Iraq. The areas of the world with the most conflict, strife, persecution, and indiscriminate killing are in Muslim countries. And that is a hard fact. Whose side are you on?

        October 27, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
      • kosh

        Stop breeding terrorist then. God damn muslim/istamic idiots, don't like america or any other country? then STAY THERE you morons. Keep your paki country dirty instead of going to our homes and messing with it...

        October 28, 2013 at 4:19 am |
      • scrut

        @Breezio
        Americans do kill indiscriminately. Read the reports from the UN, Amnesty INternational and Human Rights watch for proof.
        Besides, what you do in Pakistan is a breach of international law because you have no business killing people there – let alone thousands of innocent civilians.

        @kosh
        You are the ones breeding more terrorists than any other nation on this planet. Every time one of your drones kills another innocent civilian and no justice is brought to those responsible, every time one of your bombs hits a civilian target, every time one of your soldiers goes nuts and rapes, murders or tortures people and no justice is done. Because at some point in time, even the most peaceful person will arm himself to defend himself against the illegal murder of his loved ones. You then call that "terrorism" – but a lot of that has been created by you. Read the world terror report of the US state department. It states that since the start of the "war on terror", terrorism has quadrupled – making the US the largest sponsor of terrorism worldwide.

        October 28, 2013 at 5:36 am |
    • Lucke

      if they didn't go there they wouldn't be killed; so, just get out and stop the mess.

      October 27, 2013 at 9:55 am |
    • Brett

      He said he waa speaking out to get psychological support for the men carrying out the drone strikes and to get proper oversight of the program. Makes sense to me. The soldiers should be able to talk things through with psychologists and they should get trainibg that takes into account and deals with the fact that human beings are being killed. If you kabel the humane figures on the screen as inanimate game like objects, targets with which to increase your score with, then of course the result will be that less concern will be given as to who is killed and why.

      October 27, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  4. Dr Tod Policandriotes

    Maybe we need to be hit by a large asteroid, because maybe this would eliminate all those warlike people who enjoy killing. I cannot stand those that think we cannot change human nature, because it is those people that condone murder for profit. We as a society have become way to worried about money. When will people realize that making money should not be the goal of humans? It boils down to money for almost all of our problems on this planet.

    October 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  5. ashok

    It would be a terrible weight on a man's conscience when there is a mistake and innocent people are killed.

    October 25, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  6. Monica

    Everyone I am a real person earning real money just posting some links to websites please start earning free money and to register it's free! Please click this link to start http://bit.ly/169tW0B

    October 25, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  7. Tim Riches

    Get a different job if you can't take it. The drone program is too important to the nation's security to allow those who water at the knees to scuttle it.

    October 25, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
    • Sam

      If pre-emptive killing is right, then others can also kill before the drones come. This is all nonsense.

      October 27, 2013 at 6:48 am |
    • Brett

      Maybe you water at the knees. One of those who would mindlessly follow the shallow rhetoric of a commanding officer without speaking your mind. Wanna be part of the group? Can't handle speaking against it?

      October 27, 2013 at 10:43 am |
      • R. S. Godwin

        Yes Brett, they WANT drones, to FLY drones. He's perfect for the job, strong kneed and all. Never questioning? It wouldn't matter which side he was on in that case. Luckily he was born here, otherwise he'd be a strong kneed Jihadist.

        October 28, 2013 at 5:58 am |
  8. popseal

    What a cry baby! His mommy made him wear a helmet to play in the yard.

    October 25, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Brett

      Maybe some Arab oughta drone you and your family collaterally and then we'll see if you think they should or should not have been a little more thoughtful and careful.

      October 27, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  9. Chris May

    Yet every day Americans are being led around by a nation so wretched, with a handshake so mild. It's been "over" as far as society goes, for a very long time. Society has trouble dealing with that, which is not surprising. What is surprising is that society has not acted on it, but then again, maybe not.

    October 25, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
  10. Samantha

    As a person who worked with him.... he is focusing on things from years. Brandon got out about 3 years ago, I think. So much has changed since then. So many rules when it comes to shooting. He is making people think business is still done the same way. Mistakes happen, yes. But it's not all bad. Also, we had a chaplin with his own office inside our ops center. How could he have not talked to him? Everyone is given the opportunity to speak to mental health.

    October 25, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
    • Paul of the Outer Spiral Arm

      What good is a chaplain compared with a properly trained mental health professional?

      October 27, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  11. Justme

    This guy was just not cutout to be a fighting soldier. Accidents happen in war but that doesn't mean that wars shouldn't be fought. I hope this nice guy recovers soon from his PTS.

    October 25, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
  12. Naing

    Everything / everyone in the war is dirty. But we need you ( drone operator ) to get the world safer.

    October 26, 2013 at 6:35 am |
    • popseal

      Right. Life is dirty and war is worse. Two tours in Vietnam and the blessing of six more deploys to Pakistan and Afghanistan as a 'senior security' contractor taught me to do your job, have faith in God, and never trust a politician. These wonderful toys are the perfect answer to the jihad and its religiously insane actors. I really think Vlad the Impaler had it spot on right.

      October 27, 2013 at 10:02 am |
    • Don

      at the expense of another life. who needs that sort of freedom.

      October 27, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • scrut

      Wrong. War and Drones are making the world far worse. Look at the facts before you post such fascist propaganda.

      October 28, 2013 at 5:39 am |
  13. samoosapur

    Confessions of an American drone murderer.

    October 26, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • popseal

      Go back to mommy's lap, somebody will tell you when the hard part is over so you can participate n the Bill of Rights safely.

      October 27, 2013 at 10:04 am |
  14. eyes wide open

    Oh boo f***ing hoo... Come on. Be realistic. It doesn't hurt more or less (probably less) to be killed by a hellfire missile sent by a drone than than it is to be shot in the face at point blank. It's not less or more moral to kill from 10 feet away or from a 1000 miles.
    Every side uses the tools it has to the best of it's ability. If anything, using drones ensures LESS civilian casualties compared to traditional fighter jets screaming overhead at 600MPH and dropping 500 lb bombs with no ability to distinguish between friend and foe.
    And if your delicate soul is still aching, why don't you walk into an Al Qaeda camp holding a bouquet of roses and try to negotiate their surrender.

    October 27, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • Brett

      All that writing and all it shows is that you can't listen. Do yourself a favor and learn. He called for better access to mental health support and better oversight of the operation and training. Is that such a bad thing?

      October 27, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  15. Not sympathetic at all.

    What kind of wimp claims PTSD from pressing a button on a computer 6000 mails away? I have served in 4 war zones and I have only seen a couple of actual cases of PTSD due to real trauma. What concerns me the most is that America does not seem to be the home of the brave anymore but is increasingly the home of the victims. Everybody is a victim, everybody is traumatized, everybody needs the government to help them. Do you wonder why we are in decline? To Brando I say this: Grow up son. People die in war. That's what war is. Its ok to get out if thou can't stomach it anymore. There is no shame there. But after you get out you should just shut up and move on with your life. There are still some folks content to pull the trigger without talking to a shrink. Thank God for them.

    October 27, 2013 at 10:15 am |
    • Jamie Estevez

      As long as its not your kid right? Americans have been merely "War Tourists" since the end of the Civil War. Killing women and children and grandma's and grandpa's in the name of "Freedom and Democracy" (when its really Corporatism and Neo-Imperialism) is not exactly something I would call noble. The war on terrorism is a joke. Our government created Al Qaeda with the Saudis and Pakistanis to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Our government created that monster and it came back to haunt us on 9/11.

      October 27, 2013 at 10:35 am |
      • Brett

        Exactly.

        October 27, 2013 at 10:54 am |
      • wstwood

        PTSD? Sorry for your luck. It is an awful way to go. I fought my war on the ground. I killed with knife and gun where you used a high tech toy airplane and a TV camera. The results are the same. Anyone who says they could do it should go out and immediately join the marines.

        Killing is such an ugly thing. done up close or from 5000 miles away. People, Humans, still die.

        October 27, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  16. Larry Cableguy

    Hi.
    I think the reality is very sad. The folks being targeted haven't attacked or committed any crimes yet, therefore they are 'being' targeted based on assumptions unless we have solid evidence then it's alright otherwise it is. The fact is Americans are scared of the Federal government and the power it yields, plus America is a racist country that hates Muslims period. A racist country hell bent on revenge looking for bad guys any where in the world is what you are dealing with.

    Taliban or anyone in that region does not pose any threat to the US. US has 15,000 air planes,2 million soldiers, 2000+ tanks, 5,000 nuclear warheads, 5 ton of chemical weapons which can destroy all live on this planet 5x times over.

    No one there is going to fly here or swim and attack the US. The nazi's couldn't even attack the mainland the best they did was land a u-boat in LI. This whole war is to keep the military busy, try out new hardware, and keep the military economy running. This what happens when the military industrial complex is out of control.

    China if was drone striking or Russia we would be all up in arms, no country is attacking and killing people for the last 60 years like the US. All of this is going to result in Nuclear exchange with China and maybe Russia.

    Behave now the world is watching and remember history never forgets.

    October 27, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • frooooq

      Very well said. I hope there are other people out there who think like you.

      October 27, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  17. Larry the Donut

    China...

    Russia

    They should build a missile defense shield on their borders and set up radars to protect their airspace.

    October 27, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  18. frooooq

    I hope you keep on suffering and soon will commit suicide like hundreds of your fellow murderers in the US military garb.
    You people are the REAL terrorists and murderers and now are trying to gain sympathy by claiming PTSD. Shameful!!

    October 27, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Brett

      If war ever comes your way I hope have a nice hole in the forest nearby to crawl into.

      October 27, 2013 at 11:05 am |
      • frooooq

        Don't worry , we have been a victim of the US lead War OF terror and error for the last ten years. We are still holding up and not crying PTSD or loosing our sleep like the Americans.
        It's time you wake up and see how much you have lost in term of money, men and reputation like these illegal wars.

        October 27, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  19. CharlieSeattle

    Off your med's again I see.

    October 27, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Stephen

      I think mental illness is not funny. I read this poor person's posts and was saddened. This person is clearly not alright, and you asking him about being off his meds is not clever but insensitive.

      October 27, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • barry331

      Have some Empathy-Did posting that make you feel better? It really shines a light on the kind of person you are to attack such a tortured,sad,sick person.

      October 28, 2013 at 3:03 am |
  20. CharlieSeattle

    Mick Krever, CNN

    No pictures or real names IDIOT!

    October 27, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  21. WARIROR

    this guy is my hero, i dont ever wana play COD just this game,
    can we start droning in the US i see mad people with guns in this country running around open carry.
    what if they the bad guys were just doing their 2nd amdendnt and doing open carry like we do?

    he said he saw a dude shoot 2 kids, well he killed one the other guy killed 2, they are both heroes plus in our country we have dudes shooting up kids in schools why cant we drone them. we need to drone the NRA HQ, that is the hub of major bad guys

    October 27, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  22. Cristiano

    WHEN HE DECIDED TO WORK IN THIS PROGRAM , HE KNEW ALL ABOUT IT, now , it's late to protest

    October 27, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Brett

      Cristiano. It is like you are reading a script. I guess when anyone has a complaint at work you pull the same line. "If you don't like it, quit" "it was your choice to work here". So when he signed up for the job he knew that his superior officers were going to be inhumane and even reckless? Sometimes you have to consider the problem as it placed before you without just floating out a line.

      October 27, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  23. Random

    Suck it up soldier. Take a day off and go talk to some d day survivors . Then tell me you would rather go threw that.

    Suck it up. Perhaps im just cold but I could do the job without second thought.

    October 27, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Brett

      And that's why they didn't give the job to you. The job ought to require thought or a few hundred meters to the left or right won't matter and a few minutes patience to let bystanders pass safely won't matter either.

      October 27, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  24. Sam

    essentially drones are nothing but justice without trial. killing people on presumption that they will kill someone else. with this logic, any suspect should be tried on motive and not action. and NSA, if you are listening, please dont send a drone over to me for writing this.

    October 27, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  25. Notsurprised

    Easy to tell who has actually served in the military and who is getting their military "knowledge" from the media.
    The program isn't what it was when he was serving and you have always had counseling available. Yes, you have to report it and there is always the risk the counselor will recommend your clearance be suspended. Be an adult and realize that if you're not stable enough to have the access, the clearance should be suspended.
    HAGO

    October 27, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  26. John

    As an American, it puts me to great shame while the creeps who operate those cursed drones not only do it with impunity but are being paid big bucks to boot!!! This ignominy must end!
    Our tax dollars are being used to commit terrorism around the world, and it is time for the american people to stand up and say NO MORE. We are the land of the free and the home of the brave, not the land of the oppressed and the home of the craven coward.no wonder we are quickly becoming the most hated and least trusted country in the world! And there is just NO justification for this particular act! Shame on our government for at the very least, acknowledging this!
    Drone Operation: Situation manipulation combined with judge jury prosecutor and hangman.
    How does our society rise up and insist to our Government that these drone attacks are "NOT IN OUR NAME"? Obama and others should realize that we, the citizens of the US do not want our government to perform these illegal and immoral acts in our name. The concept of American Exceptionalism, that laws apply only to others but not the US, is not the philosophy we want our government to take.
    Time for us to end drone attacks!! I say it's high time to end these cursed drone strikes altogether! They're not only butchering innocent civilians overseas but are putting us Americans to shame in the process. Only a stupid, crazy fool would be in favor of this ignominy!

    October 27, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  27. whitewidow

    You kill ,murder people who did you nothing.I hope and pray that you will meet your end the same way.AS YOU SOU SO SHULL YE REAP.

    October 27, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  28. Kirk V. Sledge

    This guy is the worst kid of military man. He knew exactly what he was doing, now he wants to cry like a punk, I spent my military carrier as a tanker, for over twenty years. When my tank crew pulled the trigger, we knew we where killing and stopping the bad guys from killing one our brothers in arms. Ruck-up and move on.

    October 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Meastn

      It might even be worse for him than a tank crew, because he not only targets his aim, but he also watches the impact of his action, by watching the people to teared apart. Besides, human mind tends to fill the gaps when watching anything. Sitting after a screen for day after day, knowing that you are killing actual people, watching them die, and filling the gaps of the pixelized pictures could be much more devastating than the actual thing.
      He is right on one thing, there is no clean war, that would make you feel comfortable at home. War is about killing people and it always draws its mark on the ones left behind.

      October 27, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • okok

      Not at all the same, and if you believe your age old interpretation of war, "killing for the sake of saving" is what is going on today, you're saddley mistaken. I do not put into question the heroism of generations past, but the current generation of kids who believe they are crossing the ocean "to save American lives" are being deceived as much or more than those back home who believe they are dying for a rational reason.

      Thank you for your own service, and sorry for the experiences you may have endured, but calling out a young man because he finds the killings of innocents from a control for no comprehensible purpose other that to thwart "terrorism" calls into question the meaning of the oath you took. You stand for liberty, but when you realize that your friends died for oil rights and arms sales, you tell me whose liberty is truly being violated and who is doing the violating.

      You can't simply not put anything into question because your training taught you that doing so was traitorous.

      October 27, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  29. Julian Assange

    America is sending assassins to MURDER people with the due trial (like it is done in CIVILIZED nations).
    It is a CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY...
    IT HAS TO END!

    October 27, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  30. Julian Assange

    Drones are the weapons of the COWARDS!

    October 27, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  31. Khushal Khan Khattak

    collateral damage, casualties of war, good guy bad guy bullshet. name it wat ever u wanna like. but if my brother, mother, or sister gets killed in a drone strike, you cant expect me to follow the rules of logic or how dirty the war is. "I will hunt u down" slick!!!!! Thats how we humans roll. Ohhhhh n then americans start crapn about having eminent threat to their citizens. And wat does the U.N do?? wiping obamas asss as a true american toilet paper. Makes me sick of surrounded by freaks and double standard hypocrites these days

    October 27, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  32. john

    Drones warrior are not for sissies but for real men.He should be working in a childcare instead or staying under his mum dress.

    October 27, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  33. swej kcuf

    Drone warrior !!

    My carpenter is a "Building material technology engineer."

    October 27, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
  34. rick

    "drone warrior" – oxymoron if I ever heard one.

    October 27, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
  35. lupin

    drone worriors
    For innocent victims, they are evils.
    For ordinary person, they are kilers.

    October 28, 2013 at 1:07 am |
  36. Wayne

    Americans are getting more and more soft hearted and emotional. Not a bad thing once their plans are never to go to war again.

    October 28, 2013 at 5:04 am |