A former Air Force drone operator spoke to NBC News about how he is haunted by the more than 1,600 deaths he contributed to.
In the interview, Brandon Bryant, 27, spoke about the deaths he witnessed from afar in vivid detail. In one instance, he recalled operating the camera on a drone over Afghanistan while sitting at an Air Force base in Nevada. The missiles hit the three targeted men. Bryant says the men may have been carrying rifles but he isn't convinced they were necessarily "bad guys."
Via NBC News:
"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.
Bryant told NBC News that he served as a drone sensor operator for five years. His work entailed guiding drones over Iraq and Afghanistan. His duties did not include the firing of missiles, but the missions he took part in caused more than 1,600 deaths.
Bryant explained to NBC News that he now suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He said he "lost respect for life" and started to feel like a sociopath. Those feelings were compounded near the end of his time in the Air Force.
Via NBC News:
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.”
Bryant explained to NBC News that he joined the Air Force as a 19-year-old kid. His recruiter told him he would be like one of the guys in the background of James Bond movies, feeding information to people on missions.
Bryant said the Veterans Administration diagnosed him with PTSD. He is participating in counseling. However, the lingering effects of his time as a drone operator continue to haunt him.
Via NBC News:
"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."