The Woes of an American Drone Operator

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, NEW MEXICO, USA, OCTOBER 30 2012: A drone pilot, left, and a drone sensor operator practice on a simulator at Holloman AFB, where drone pilots and drone sensor operators are trained. Working side by side with the pilot, the drone’s Sensor Operator watches targets (sometimes for hours or days) and tags them with a laser just before the pilot shoots the drone’s missile (photo Gilles Mingasson for Der Spiegel).

A soldier sets out to graduate at the top of his class. He succeeds, and he becomes a drone pilot working with a special unit of the United States Air Force in New Mexico. He kills dozens of people. But then, one day, he realizes that he can’t do it anymore.

A sobering article in Der Speigel. Turns out that killing people with drones often creates deep emotional scars on the drone operators who are in the US military and doing the work of combat soldiers: killing the enemy. Only the drone operators are thousands of miles away in air-conditioned trailers on an American air base in the US. Killing has become a 9 to 5 sort of job. Yet just as soldiers make mistakes in combat and kill civilians. Drone operators do as well. And the emotional results can be just as painful.

[Source: Der Spiegel. Image courtesy of Der Spiegel.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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