"Ours was called Sgt. Talon," says Sgt. Michael Maxson of the 737th Ordnance Company (EOD). "We always wanted him as our main robot. Every time he was working, nothing bad ever happened. He always got the job done. He took a couple of detonations in front of his face and didn't stop working. One time, he actually did break down in a mission, and we sent another robot in and it got blown to pieces. It's like he shut down because he knew something bad would happen." The troops promoted the robot to staff sergeant—a high honor, since that usually means a squad leader. They also awarded it three "purple hearts."
It's common for a soldier to cut out a magazine picture of a woman, tape it to the antenna and name the bot something like "Cheryl," says Paul Varian, a former Army chief warrant officer who has served three tours in Iraq with the Robotic Systems Joint Project Office. "There's an awful lot of picture-taking," he says. One guy who married justbefore deployment wanted his wife to see the gal who was his constant companion. It was a PackBot.
The piece raises a lot of questions about the increasingly blurry lines that separate the human from the machine. As the saying goes, read the whole thing.