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The Unseen Trauma of America’s Drone Pilots

The Daily

The New York Times

News, Daily News

4.597.8K Ratings

🗓️ 9 May 2022

⏱️ 34 minutes

🧾️ Download transcript


This episode contains descriptions of suicide. Over the past five years, a series of investigations by The Times has revealed the terror and tragedy that America’s air wars, despite being promoted as the most precise in history, have brought to civilians on the ground. The program has also exacted a heavy toll on the military personnel guiding the drones to their targets. They include soldiers such as Capt. Kevin Larson, a decorated pilot, who died by suicide after a drug arrest and court-martial. For suicide prevention resources in the United States, go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources. Go here for resources outside the United States. Guest: Dave Philipps, a national correspondent covering the military for The New York Times.

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From New York Times, I'm Michael Barrow. This is a daily.


Over the past five years, a series of investigations by the Times has revealed the degree to which


America's air wars, which were supposed to be the most precise in history, have instead


brought terror and tragedy to the civilians on the ground.


Today, my colleague, Dave Phillips, follows up on that reporting with a look at the


tool that the program has taken on the drone pilots who have carried it out.


It's Monday, May 9.


How did you first come to the story of Kevin Larson?


It was really out of the blue. Kevin Larson was this decorated drone pilot flying the


Reaper drone. He'd flown hundreds of missions, gotten a number of medals for it, and then


he was charged with drug possession and distribution and convicted. It was kind of a small case


and routine conviction, except for one thing. After the verdict came down, he took off


out of the courtroom, basically ran. A few days later, the police were chasing him. They


cornered him in a rural valley in the mountains of California, and he shot himself.


That day, I got a call from a military lawyer who I'd known for years, who had been in


the courtroom when this young officer took off and had learned about his death. What he


said to me was, you should try to look into this, because this isn't just a case of drug


use. I think it's something more. I know what unit he was in. There's just probably


a lot more to this young man's story than just that he was running from a pretty minor




This guy calls you and says, there's something bigger here, and I think you should look


into it.


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