Drones were one of this year's hottest gifts, but the technology isn't just for fun. In fact, it's being used to protect our country from right here in Michigan.
At the 110th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard in Battle Creek, 7 Action News was granted a rare glimpse inside an elite program supporting critical missions involving.
Technically speaking, the term "drone" doesn't best describe the MQ-9 Reaper. Pilots tell us it's a state of the art full size aircraft, nothing like what someone could buy on Amazon.
It's also a major asset in the war on terror and on the front lines of combat.
The MQ-9 is considered among the most highly advanced tools our military has to protect U.S. and allied forces in harm's way.
"This is the evolution of airplanes. Where the war fight is going," says Col. Alexander, a top pilot with the 110th Attack Wing.
Alexander says the MQ-9 Reaper can carry out both surveillance and strike missions anywhere in the world.
"It's best known for it's versatility and being extremely useful for ensuring safety of troops" adds Alexander.
Much like a traditional aircraft, pilots are sitting in a cockpit with a stick, controls, rudders and a throttle. The only difference is that the pilots are controlling these plane remotely, from thousands of miles away.
"Their training is exceptional and allows pilots and others to handle high stress, identify enemy threats and warn commanders on the ground," says Col. Teff, Commander of the Battle Creek ANG Base.
He adds, "The tempo is high. That's what brings the stressers."
Often times, missions can be carried out in challenging situations and over hostile territory such as Iraq or Afghanistan.
"We have to support U.S. and coalition ground forces, and in those instances firepower is potentially required," says Col. Teff.
But, unlike conventional deployment, the men and women of the 110th Attack Wing get to see their families everyday.
"We come to work. We sit in our box. We fly the mission and then we go home," says Col. Alexander. "It's not like you're going to be gone for 6 months. You don't miss the birthdays. The anniversaries. You can be part of a normal military routine but still participate in your military mission."
Most of all, there is incredible pride and patriotism fueling this daily mission.
"You get to make sure they can come home. That's part of the benefit of this mission," says Col. Alexander.