An anti-war drone tour took flight Thursday at Wright State University with calls to end U.S. military unmanned aircraft attacks overseas and a demand that a local congressman use industry campaign contributions to aid survivors of the strikes.
With a large replica of an armed MQ-9 Reaper as a backdrop inside Wright State’s Student Union, anti-war advocates condemned U.S. military drone missions and dismissed the industry as a potential boon for job creation in Ohio.
“People are not being told the truth of the military industrial complex and about how Dayton is a focal point of these technologies and other military operations,” said Phillip M. Logan Jr., 25, a member of the Young Democratic Socialists chapter at Wright State who spoke at the gathering.
The anti-drone speakers highlighted the region’s key role in UAV development and operations. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base manages the Air Force’s drone acquisition and development and UAVs are controlled remotely overseas at the Springfield Air National Guard Base. The Miami Valley is home to numerous defense contractors and university research that contributes to the industry.
George J. Gerci, 62, of White Plains, N.Y., said the military’s use of UAVs was “ethically disturbing.”
“These are killing machines,” he said in an interview. “It’s making us hated in the world because it’s a cowardly way to fight. … They kill a lot of innocent people that are nearby.”
Nick Mottern, 73, the Know Your Drones tour director and a Navy veteran, said Congress hasn’t exercised oversight of the drone anti-terrorism program which advocates said violates other nations’ sovereignty and legal due process rights of those targeted.
“Fear is being used to cause us to accept the destruction of human rights,” the White Plains, N.Y., resident said.
But among the handful of students and others who stopped to listen to the speakers, disagreement was evident.
An Army veteran who served in Iraq but would not identify himself said UAVs save U.S. soldiers’ lives and prevent future terrorism attacks.
Benjamin Maculso, 21, of Wilmington, said while he’s saddened by civilian deaths in war, he sees multiple roles drones might play in civilian and military duties.
“It doesn’t mean we should stop using this technology,” the mechanical engineering student said. UAVs have the potential to create jobs, expand law enforcement’s reach and travel where soldiers can’t, he said.
“As long as we know exactly where the terrorists are (in military strikes), I see the benefit,” he said.
The tour plans to stop today at U.S. Rep. Mike Turner’s office to deliver a detailed letter outlining its concerns. Among its claims, it said the drone-related industry has contributed more than $147,000 to the congressman’s campaign coffers.
The Westchester Peace and Action Coalition, headquartered in upstate New York, has targeted the tour for the districts of members of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, including Turner, R-Centerville, and Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek.
Mottern said Turner should give the campaign money to agencies “that are providing aid to victims of drone attacks.”
In a statement, Turner said unmanned aerial systems “play a key role in ensuring the safety and security of our nation. They also keep our troops safe on the ground and out of harm’s way in the skies. As our community looks to new centers for economic development, UAS represents an area where potentially thousands of jobs can be created; putting more Ohioans back to work.”
The Dayton Daily News contacted a spokesman for Turner’s Democratic challenger, Sharen Neuhardt, for comment, but did not receive a response by deadline.
Wright-Patterson spokesman Daryl Mayer has said while the base cannot comment on the specifics of the protest, “we strongly support the rights of every American to be heard.”
The Arlington, Va.-headquartered Association for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems has said UAVs “allow us to safely handle dangerous and difficult jobs safely and efficiently” while the remotely piloted aircraft assume more civilian uses and create well-paying technical jobs.
The anti-drone tour has stops set today at Sinclair Community College and the University of Dayton; and Wittenberg College in Springfield on Sunday.
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