< class=" wp-image-18213 " alt="Grounded and going nowhere." src="http://duffelblog.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/070517-F-3108S-022-688x450.jpg" width="720" height="470" /> Grounded and going nowhere.
WASHINGTON, DC – In its seven years with the Air Force’s 451st Air Expeditionary Wing, MQ-1B Predator, Tail Number 07-001211 flew more than 18,000 hours of combat support and strike missions over Afghanistan and Pakistan. This qualifies it as one of the most experienced drones in the military’s inventory but not apparently for the software upgrades it will need to find a job back home.
“I call my VA rep, and the son of a bitch tells me I’m only eligible for software packages priced at the Windows 98 level or equivalent,” the unmanned aerial platform said from its hangar in Northern Virginia. “Like I’m some fucking Hewlett-Packard.”
Indeed, the Department of Veterans Affairs, which administers the Post-9/11 GI Bill, stipulates that only living, breathing human beings can qualify for full benefits of the program. Unmanned vehicles and robots, on the other hand, fall into a slimmer, more vaguely worded category of coverage in which software and some hardware upgrades are available but only from the lowest bidding companies and manufacturers.
This leaves pricier options – often the only upgrades actually compatible with the member in question’s build – out of reach for veteran machines like 07-001211 who sacrificed so much for their country and say they’re only looking for a sincere return on that investment.
“Can you believe it? I spend years risking life and wing, getting dicked around by some 19-year-old on a joystick in god-knows-where Nevada, dropping bombs on god-knows-what kinds of hospitals and schools – I’m telling you, man, I’ve seen some shit,” said 07-001211. “But did I ever say no? Did I ever refuse to fly? Not once. You think that’d be worth something to these bozos at the VA, but I guess to them I’m just another piece of paperwork in a blue folder.”
Without a significant overhaul of its software suite, 07-001211 says it doesn’t stand a chance in the jobs market against newer model UAVs.
“Local law enforcement, the parks service – they’re all only interested in these hotshot young birds with their high-def sensors and their fancy motion and change-detecting technology,” said 07-00211. “I tell ‘em I got day-in, day-out reliability, but you think they give a shit? I even called for a job flying sandwich shop banners over Rehoboth Beach but got turned away cause I don’t have any seaside experience.”
07-001211 says that if it doesn’t get some kind of help from the government soon, it will almost certainly fall on hard times in the months and years ahead. The increasingly destitute UAV suffers from mechanical issues including a squeaky wheel and a recurring oil leak that are harsh reminders of tough years spent overseas. Further, without a job, bankers are threatening to foreclose on its hangar. On both of these issues, the country that 07-001211 served so bravely has been nowhere.
The worst of it, though, 07-001211 says, is that its manufacturers at Boeing don’t even recognize the happy-go-lucky drone they say they knew before the war.
“The recruiters, they told me ‘Aim high,’ ‘Be all you can be.’ You know I actually believed that nonsense?" 07-001211 said. "More like ‘Do your time and then go fuck yourself.’ Thanks, Obama!”
At press time, 07-001211 was spotted drunk, catcalling middle school-aged girls on the National Mall.
“God, DC would be so lovely if weren’t for all these bum death machines,” said a passing tourist. “Why doesn’t it just get a job?”