At his favorite hometown coffee shop, The Break Espresso, Brandon Bryant pushes a sausage biscuit aside and talks about his now public life. He's ready to move on and keep his days as a drone operator behind him. "I guess I just want people to know that I'm just another guy," he says. "I'm just here."
Bryant recently shared his experience as a U.S. Air Force drone operator with a journalist from a German news magazine. The story was then translated into English and reprinted worldwide, including a recent cover story in the Indy.
Bryant did not have a problem with the original article, but he says some publications took editorial liberties when summarizing his story. The UK's Daily Mail, for instance, paraphrased a scene where Bryant sees a child walk around the corner of a targeted house seconds before a missile detonation: "... after following orders to shoot and kill a child, [Bryant] knew he couldn't keep doing what he was doing and quit the military."
"Most places it was fine," he says. "And other publications butchered the story."
Since the article went viral, Bryant says he has received mixed feedback. Some people have thanked him for his honesty. Some people, particularly servicemen and women, have ridiculed him.
"In the [drone] program you never talked about what you did. Ever," he says. "I've gotten a lot of praise for sharing my experience, and a lot of people have threatened me."
Bryant seems more focused on his future in Missoula than what people think of his past. A few years ago, he began participating in XSports4Vets, a local program where combat vets participate in adventure sports. Last summer, he went trike gliding over Flathead Lake. "It was a sense of true freedom," he says. "You could feel the wind roll your aircraft. I get why people want to be pilots." It's something he hopes to do again.
He's currently coaching wrestling at Big Sky High School, where his grandfather, Lanny Bryant, an inductee in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, is the head coach. Brandon says he enjoys working with the team and being close to family, but he remains restless.
"I'm sort of a ship without a compass right now," he says. "I'm not sure where I'm headed."