Brandon Bryant watched in horror as a small child darted on to the infra-red display in front of him. Milliseconds later a bright flash obliterated everything on the screen.
It was February 2007, and the US Airman had just fired a laser-guided supersonic bomb from his Predator drone aimed at a building in Afghanistan from his control station in Las Vegas, 12,000km away.
He was taking out an enemy combatant believed to be inside, but at the last minute he saw a little child run into his crosshairs — the focus point of his drone lens — just as the Hellfire missile hit.
It’s an image which has haunted him ever since, even though his Air Force superiors insisted the child was actually a dog.
Thirteen years on from that mission, the same type of missile Mr Bryant fired was used to assassinate Iranian general Qasem Soleimani while on a trip to Baghdad in January, ratcheting up tensions in the Middle East.
Drones have become the defining weapon of war in the 21st century, with demand for the killing machines ferociously increasing.
But finding enough people to command the unmanned airborne terminators can be difficult – a pilot shortage is believed to be a problem with the RAF’s planned £1.1 billion ($2.1 billion) Protector drone program, The Times reports.
That’s partly because drone operators have been found to suffer higher levels of “psychological distress” than other military groups.
And Mr Bryant knows about the horror of the job better than most — when he left the Air Force in 2011, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now he publicly denounces what he did during his time commanding drones, and he was furious to see them used in the killing of Soleimani.
“We have not learned the lessons of the past,” Mr Bryant tells Sun Online.
“We’re still doing things not like the Nazis, but worse than the Nazis, because we should know better.”
Here, he shares his hellish story of raining death and destruction from the heavens.