From Stars and Stripes
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Strapped into the cockpit of an F-16 jet fighter, Air Force Col. Scott Brenton has dropped bombs over Bosnia, screamed over the desert in Iraq and strafed Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. But on a recent morning, Brenton flew his combat mission from a leather easy chair in a low-slung cinder block building on the edge of Syracuse.
Brenton’s unit, the 174th Fighter Wing of the New York Air National Guard, traded in its fleet of F-16s for unmanned Reaper drones two years ago. Since then, the reserve pilots have been flying nearly around-the-clock combat operations over Afghanistan from a base about five miles from this city’s nearest Wal-Mart.
Brenton, the wing’s full-time operations group commander, spent a recent morning here with his finger on the trigger of two 500-pound bombs and a rack of Hellfire missiles nearly 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan.
But the new mission at Hancock Field has riled a small and vocal community of antiwar activists in upstate New York. Over the last two years, protesters have barricaded the base’s security checkpoint, staged gruesome human tableaus meant to depict Afghan civilians killed by an airstrike, dressed in black-hooded Grim Reaper costumes, and delivered fake war crime indictments to the pilots flying the Reaper missions.
“Jobs have become a justification for anything and everything,” said Rae Kramer, a 65-year-old former healthcare administrator, standing at a busy intersection in Syracuse last week with 10 other protesters. She was shaking a piece of white poster board that read: “Drones murder civilians.”
“The whole notion that the battlefield is no longer limited to Afghanistan and Pakistan and that rockets are being launched from right here concerns me — and the possibility of retaliation,” she said.