Stressful to have zero room for error yet knowing that despite your best efforts and all appropriate safety measures, you will always stand a reasonable chance (because you are operating what amounts to a deadly video game by satellite link) of taking out unintended targets? i.e. screen goes blank at the wrong moment, i.e. you’re relying on a spotter for the go sign, i.e. the spotter makes a mistake, i.e. the spotter is high on the drugs the army gave him to deal with the stress of zero tolerance for mistakes, i.e. the zero tolerance ban is lifted and you are now stressed that you are entitled to make a few mistakes, which in your mind, because of how you were raised, amounts to firing blindly down a dark alley knowing that unintended targets are downrange: women, children, babies. i.e. you finally get to wondering if hunting people in the dark with hellfire missiles fired from an office chair thousands of miles away is morally questionable–if not outright inhuman behavior.ei. ie. ieie ie ieieieieeiieieieieiieieiieieiieiei?
Then, after crashing your car DUI on something, distressed over one or many of these considerations, they call you in.
Take this pill, soldier. it will relax your mind. allow you to let go, to carry on, to do your duty, to not fail. plus, you got a sweet gig. drone operators are entitled to all the combat pay and combat privileges that adhere to a frontline grunt muddying themselves over there on the frontlines up to their elbows in camel shit. that’s right. he doesn’t get any perks you don’t. and you’re way back here CONUS seeing your wife every night and getting a piece here and there. you’re doing combat time and getting combat pay. and not just for the time you’re flying the operation, see? you get it when you’re over there shopping at the class 6 buying booze. all the combat pay and combat privileges of the sorry bastards out there on the frontlines. you think those shmos would even be out there if they knew what a “drone operator” was? They’ve positively never even heard of 32 X-Rays!!! Plus, you have been through very intensive training.
Plus, you are the best we’ve got.
Plus, this whole nation, this whole country,
we’re all counting on you, son.
(You would think with all that easy CONUS duty, would be low stress, right? Probably bunch of typewriter geeks.
To get out of country?
To get out of this camel shit?
Fuck, I’ll push all the buttons they got.)
Air Force Drone Operators Report High Levels of Stress
Published: December 18, 2011
WASHINGTON — Nearly half the operators of drone aircraft have high levels of job-related stress, mostly linked to long and erratic work hours because of a tremendous increase in the use of the aircraft, the Air Force said in a new study.
Times Topics: Predator Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) | Pilots
In a survey of nearly 1,500 Air Force members, including 840 operators of Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk drones, the Air Force found that 46 percent of Reaper and Predator pilots and 48 percent of Global Hawk sensor operators reported what the Air Force termed “high operational stress.” It did not specifically define high operational stress but said operators were judged to have it if they rated their stress levels as 8 or above on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 representing the most stress.
A smaller but still significant number — including a quarter of Global Hawk sensor operators — had what the Air Force called “clinical distress,” which was defined as anxiety, depression or stress severe enough to affect an operator’s job performance or family life.
The Air Force has long known anecdotally of the job pressures on drone pilots, who use joysticks and computer screens to fly their aircraft, most typically over Afghanistan, from bases in the United States. But the study, conducted by the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, was the first to try to quantify the strains.
The operators in the study were divided into three groups of people who work hand in hand: Pilots who remotely fly the drones, sensor operators who control the cameras that bring the battlefield into view and mission intelligence coordinators who communicate with troops on the ground. There was also a difference among the drones in the study: Predators and Reapers are armed, and Global Hawks are not.
In one surprising finding that challenged some of the survey’s initial suppositions, the authors found limited stress related to a unique aspect of the operators’ jobs: watching hours of close-up video of people killed in drone strikes. After a strike, operators assess the damage, and unlike fighter pilots who fly thousands of feet above their targets, drone operators can see in vivid detail what they have destroyed.
“The going-in assumption was that we were placing these guys under a great amount of stress because of all this video feed,” said Col. Kent McDonald, the chief of neuropsychiatry at the school of aerospace medicine and one of the study’s two authors.
In one-on-one interviews with 85 operators, the authors found that many felt a sense of accomplishment in protecting troops on the ground. Soldiers and Marines who get pinned down in insurgent fire in Afghanistan often call in airstrikes to get themselves out of trouble, and a drone that comes buzzing overhead is a highly welcome sound. Guided by communications with American troops on the ground, drone operators are then able to aim their missiles directly at insurgents. “These guys are up above firing at the enemy,” Colonel McDonald said. “They love that, they feel like they’re protecting our people. They build this virtual relationship with the guys on the ground.”
Wayne Chappelle, the chief of aerospace psychology at the Air Force school and the study’s other author, said he learned in the interviews that ground troops sometimes sought out the operators by e-mail after a successful strike. “They would want to just say, ‘Hey, thanks, man,’ ” Dr. Chappelle said.
Both Dr. Chappelle and Colonel McDonald said that 4 percent or less of operators were at high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, the severe anxiety disorder that can include flashbacks, nightmares, anger, hypervigilance or avoidance of people, places or situations. In those cases, the authors suggested, the operators had seen close-up video of what the military calls collateral damage, casualties of women, children or other civilians. “Collateral damage is unnerving or unsettling to these guys,” Colonel McDonald said.
The percentage of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder was 12 to 17 percent, the authors said.
In contrast to nearly half of drone operators’ reporting “high operational stress,” 36 percent of a control group of 600 Air Force members in logistics or support jobs reported stress. The Air Force did not compare the stress levels of the drone operators with military pilots who fly planes in the air.
The biggest sources of stress for drone operators remained long hours and frequent shift changes because of staff shortages. The Pentagon has about 7,000 aerial drones, up from 50 a decade ago, and in the next decade expects its number of “multirole” drones — ones that spy as well as strike, like the Reaper — to nearly quadruple, to 536. The Air Force is training more remote pilots, 350 this year alone, than fighter and bomber pilots combined. There are about 1,100 drone pilots in the Air Force.
The study did not include drone operators for the Central Intelligence Agency, which uses drones in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Iran.