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Those who believe in the supremacy of individual human agency, the William Ernest Henley worship of "my unconquerable soul" overruling all other human destiny, might have a hard time explaining this peculiar destiny of the Forrester family, where the toy video game with the feature that EA desired, the Hellfire missile launched by the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle ( UAV) system, was, after riding the backseat of an F-15 Eagle for six years, actually the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) of his father. This unique, intergenerational circumstance grew out of events that occurred before both were born, on October 6, 1973, the first day of the fourth Arab-Israeli war, most known to history as the Yom Kippur war. 

Proving once again that nothing so brings defeat to a military faster than the arrogance of victory, the Israeli air force, the hero of the 1967 Six-Day war with their early bold strikes behind Egyptian and Syrian lines, attempted to do the same in the early minutes of the 1973 war, confident in their ability to cut the lines of communication and supply of the Egyptian invasion force that had crossed onto the Eastern littoral of the Suez Canal. However, the pilots were driven back, sustaining significant casualties of up to 200 fighter aircraft shot down, by the sophisticated anti-aircraft system provided to the Arabs by the Soviet Union, primarily the SAM 6 missile and ZSU-23 radar directed anti-aircraft gun. 

The only other major world power with the resources to marry so much cutting-edge technology and money in the service of warcraft, the United States, stood up and took notice. They weren't so concerned about the prospect of more downed planes, in the new environment; after all, each one of those was just another appropriation line to some lucky member of the military industrial complex. 

But the loss of the pilots, well, that was another story. They were devilishly expensive to train, and their training was always long and arduous. In United States civilian factories, the principle of replacing manpower with technology, most commonly known as automation, was now well under way, so would it be in the military. If you're sending something over a heavily defended enemy frontier, the new thinking would be to decouple the plane/pilot package that had existed since the age of flight began, and send in only the plane, in this case, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) . 

The first chance to demonstrate the new technology was in the 1991 Gulf War; there, it was camera-equipped UAVs that pilots in conventional fighter/bombers relied on to target air-to-surface ground munitions fired from behind enemy lines to reach their target; this led to the famed "luckiest man in Iraq" joke told by allied commander, Norman Schwarzkopf, in response to an Iraqi bridge blowing up seconds after an Iraqi truck driver passed over it. 

By the time of the wars of 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan to root out the Taliban, and then, the war to depose Saddam Hussein, the CIA and United States Air Force had married the capabilities of its extended range Predator and Reaper UAVs with that of its Hellfire air-to-ground missile, and a new way of war was born. 

Thus, after bringing the US$350 order back from Costco, and after a few beers and a few innings of the Dodgers, captain Forrester showered, shaved, donned his air force blue, kissed the family goodbye, climbed up into the cab of his Dodge Ram and began the lonely 80 kilometer journey northwest through the darkening Nevada desert, up State Route 95 to Creech Air Force Base, the proud, self proclaimed "Home of the Predators". 

But, in actuality, where he was really going was straight into the heart of the Afghan war zone. 

To save on fuel, weighed down neither by human pilots nor the life support system needed to keep them alive, the eight-meter long Predators were set aloft from their simple fixed rail launchers as close to the action as possible, but as for where they were controlled, that was another story. With the increases in Pentagon satellite bandwidth that could be anywhere, and once the bad guys, be it leftover al-Qaeda in Iraq or the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, found out just how hard they were getting it from the Predators, the air force looked around and found Creech, almost a kilometer in the sky, a formidable obstacle to any jihadi trying to pass as Anglo in the nearby town of Indian Springs. 

Once inside, one of the 12 interlocking 30-meter trailers (Britain's MI-6 had a trailer on the other side of the base; a few months ago, Prince Harry was here training on Predators patrolling over Pakistan) and settled in, Forrester's missions were not that different from EA's when he plays the game with friends. He's strapped in, before him are a VDT screen and all the controls needed to "fly" the Predator, flaps, throttle, rudder. Besides Forester is his co-pilot, First Lieutenant Rodger "Rico" Colon, the payload operator controller, responsible for all the systems necessary to keep the Predator aloft, as well as its key attraction, its two Hellfire II AGM-114 missiles, carried under the Predator's wing, along with a number of uniformed intelligence analysts helping them with targets. 

MQ-1 Predator (2008)

With their light, composite material weight and relatively small, engines, the Predators could conduct missions of far longer duration, sometimes up to 22 hours, than their human controllers had the endurance for; this necessitated each mission to be manned by two separate teams, Forrester's Red Team, and Captains Mike "Sherlock" Holmes and Jay "Pulaski" Popowicz's Gold team, which were just finishing as Forrester's team approached. Another Predator, patrolling about 125 clicks to the north, was controlled, from the station on the other side of the room, by the Green and Blue teams. The whole command was in the hands of Colonel Joe "Sidewinder" Ross, an old F-16 pilot now commanding the Predators from his raised communications command platform between the two Predator control stations. 

Popowicz signed out his time roster. "Get any tonight?" Colon asked him, wanting to know if they had played a part in stabilizing the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. 

"Naahhh. The CIA had us shitting bullets over what they thought was Khalid al-Raymi, and we were chasing our tails over that for a couple of hours, but it all was nothing. Something for some striped-pants Langley faggot to get it up before his wife breaks the on/off switch on the 'ol vibrator." 

At Creech, they were well aware that the CIA had other Predator launch stations in the area, from the Horn of Africa providing coverage all the way down the Somali coast, through Iraq to Pakistan, all controlled by another ground facility like this somewhere at Langley. The idea was that the uniformed military would task Creech for the targets that supported the forces on the ground, and the CIA would target the supposed big stuff, like high-value al-Qaeda, that they found. 

Still, the separation of labor was not perfect; Langley was always on the blower to Ross about Creech picking up the ball on something they dropped. Ross had the authority to retask a Predator to a CIA target, but heaven help him if some marine infantry company pinned down under mortar fire took hits just because he had shot the Predator's wad chasing down Langley's ghosts. 

His first shift was uneventful, but, halfway through his second, on the next day, something came up. 

"Hey, Red Team," Ross called out. "Crescent Security is mounting a resupply convoy from Khazxni to Kandahar. Leavin' in a couple of hours. They're afraid if they catch any shit, they'll scratch all their new Rolexes. They want a traffic report, to know if anybody's doing any road maintenance." 

"OK, boss," Forrester replied. He checked his watch, it was still before 10 at night in country, about nine hours to sunrise. He turned his Predator, which had been doing lazy circles above the Darya ye Arghandab, east towards the remainder of Zabol province. 

"Road maintenance" was slang for a jihadi crew planting an improvised explosive device in the path of an inbound American resupply convoy. This was always done at night, Johnny Jihad had still not learned the Predators could, with their IR Gear and other low lights, see them just about as well in dark as in light.

After a couple of hours of them doing their "traffic report", Forrester found them, 65 clicks northeast of Kandahar. Five guys working intently on the side of a curved section of the road, the perfect place for an IED. 

Ross worked the room. "Intelligence?" 

The intelligence guys conferred, but only for a couple of seconds. "Yup." 


"Hell, ya." 


Forrester now held the power of life or death over the men in the video screen 11,000 kilometers away, but he didn't dwell on it. "Highway patrol. License and registration, please." 

Forrester's old joke cut through some of the inherent tension in the room, between those who kill and their soon-to-be victims. "Green light," Ross said firmly. 

Forrester took the Predator up 1,000 or so while Rico locked the target in his radar. 

"Lock," called out Rico. 


The camera picked up only about a tenth of a second of the Hellfire leaving, but it still shook for a second or two. At about launch +4 seconds, a tremendous explosion filled the screen, followed, about a half a second later, by a tremendous secondary explosion, as what would have been the roadside bomb went up as well. 

Immediately, the room exploded in cheers. Rico, standing on his chair, called out Kilgore's famous line, "I love the smell of Hellfire in the morning - it smells like victory!" 

When Forrester's shift ended 36 hours later, Ross approached him as he was changing back into civvies, handed him a photocopied piece of paper with Arabic lettering. 

Forrester didn't read Arabic, and Ross knew it. "This supposed to mean something to me?" 

"French intel picked this up in Peshawar, on the other side of the Paki border. It says 'DEATH TO THE ASSASSINS FROM THE SKY, TO THE LAST OF THE LINES'. 

"Is this a threat?" Forrester asked. 

"What do you think?" 

Of course it was a threat; just because the battlefield was on the other side of the world, it didn't mean that Ross wasn't going to check out the men in his command for post-traumatic stress disorder, or maybe just old fashioned cowardice. 

"So Johnny Jihad's coming to North Vegas?" Forrester asked, running a comb through his hair. 


"Effing fantastic, I haven't been able to find a good gardener since all the Mexicans left." Forrester closed his locker, saluted, turned and left.