UAV operators suffer war stress

Low_Level_Hell

Well-Known Member
These poor guys. The Airforce should really deploy them so they don't have to suffer so much.

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. — The Air National Guardsmen who operate Predator drones over Iraq via remote control, launching deadly missile attacks from the safety of Southern California 7,000 miles away, are suffering some of the same psychological stresses as their comrades on the battlefield.
Working in air-conditioned trailers, Predator pilots observe the field of battle through a bank of video screens and kill enemy fighters with a few computer keystrokes. Then, after their shifts are over, they get to drive home and sleep in their own beds. http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2008/08/ap_remote_stress_080708/
 

JLF

Well-Known Member
I don't know man... I don't really think it matters how you kill people, ya know? At least when your deployed your in the complete unadulterated mindset.

I couldn't imagine going home and dropping my keys on the table, petting my dog, and watching tv after firing up a crowd people. At least at the CHU you have a whole platoon, or whatever full of people that just went through what you did.
 

Firebird2XC

Well-Known Member
I have mixed emotions about this.

One my biggest stressors when I was in Iraq was never being able to leave. No matter where I went, I was still there. There was no real 'down time'. There was no real feeling of complete safety.

When the UAV kids get woke up in the middle of the night by incoming mortar rounds... on a regular basis... let them talk.

I think this is just the basis of them stumping for 'hazardous duty pay' or what have you.
 

Low_Level_Hell

Well-Known Member
Maybe if they experienced some indirect fire they won't feel so bad next time they whack some guy launching rockets/mortars upside the head with a hellfire.

The stressful part, the decision to engage and the thought process that goes with it, is already done for them by a committee of officers on the ground in Iraq who have scrutinized the same video feed the UAV operator sees. I'm not gonna say its exactly like a video game for them but its pretty close. Even sitting four feet away from the missile when it leaves the rail its a pretty detached feeling and most likely nothing compared to the up close and personal stuff the troops on the ground must go through...
 

IslandFlyer

Well-Known Member
This is a joke right? Nauseating really.

How could you go to the doc (with a straight face) and asked to be evaulated for PTSD or something similar?

When the doc asks what your duties and daily life are like it would be something like:

Sit in front of a computer in an airconditioned office in SOCAL (but doc it's not a Lazyboy!)
Watch surveillance videos of possible targets (while eating the pizza that was just delivered by Papa Johns)
Possibly engage them
Go home and see your wife, kids, dog & cat
Went to the family reunion last weekend
Going to the club this weekend
Possibly going to the bar after my next shift because it may be too stressful
Taking my kids to Disneyland next week for their birthday

If this is causing war stress, I think we need to have some wall to wall counseling with these jokers.

I know last time I was out there, the UAV operators were pushing for flight pay, wonder if they ever started receiving it....:confused:
 

JLF

Well-Known Member
How could you go to the doc (with a straight face) and asked to be evaulated for PTSD or something similar?
I dunno, maybe if you experience post traumatic stress from killing people.

So the thought here is that just because them themselves are not in imminent danger, killing someone's husband/wife/mom/dad/brother/sister shouldn't cause them stress? I fail to see the parallel between the two completely seperate stressors. That is the stress of possibly being killed, and the stress of killing.
 

MikeFavinger

Hubschrauber Flieger
I dunno, maybe if you experience post traumatic stress from killing people.

So the thought here is that just because them themselves are not in imminent danger, killing someone's husband/wife/mom/dad/brother/sister shouldn't cause them stress? I fail to see the parallel between the two completely seperate stressors. That is the stress of possibly being killed, and the stress of killing.
I think the point the others are trying to make is whatever stress these UAV operators feel, it's going to pale in comparison to the stress those feel who are actually in theater.

While it's true we make our own realities - and what we feel is what we feel - it is very difficult for those of us who have been in theater to take these complaints seriously. That doesn't mean these UAV guys aren't feeling stress - it just means they might lack the perspective of those on the ground.

From an intellectual standpoint I see where you are coming from, but that's a pretty hard sell to those who have suffered actual war.
 

JLF

Well-Known Member
I get it. I wonder how much -if any- actual combat people who are making fun of these guys have been through.

Know that these UAV operators have been through much more suffering of actual war than the TOC peeps chillin' in there airconditioned office, eating pizza on the FOB.
 

MikeFavinger

Hubschrauber Flieger
Good point. But those TOC peeps are in danger from the enemy. Indirect fire is the most obvious, but I spent 6 of my 12 months in Iraq as a TOC guy and know many of them get sent on convoys. Quite often, actually.
 

IslandFlyer

Well-Known Member
Just a side note to the UAV operators feeling stressed from 'killing' someones dad, brother, son, etc.

I worked with a lot of UAV's/operators out there, and I cannot count how many times we had to go in to do battle damage assessments after they engaged their targets.

Unless things have changed, which I'm sure they have; a lot of the UAV guys wouldn't even know they eliminated their target without someone coming in behind them and confirming it.
 

IslandFlyer

Well-Known Member
I get it. I wonder how much -if any- actual combat people who are making fun of these guys have been through.

Know that these UAV operators have been through much more suffering of actual war than the TOC peeps chillin' in there airconditioned office, eating pizza on the FOB.

I don't think there is a need to explain who does what, because we all know there are MANY jobs out there that are 9-5 for a lot of TOC type personnel (no matter how bad it hurts, a TOC is needed, and there must be personnel to do the jobs inside).

But even if some FOBBIT were to criticize some AF UAV guy that sits in CA crying PTSD, he has all the right to. That UAV guy goes home everynight and doesn't have to put up with indirect fire.
 

JLF

Well-Known Member
Good point. But those TOC peeps are in danger from the enemy. Indirect fire is the most obvious, but I spent 6 of my 12 months in Iraq as a TOC guy and know many of them get sent on convoys. Quite often, actually.
Oh yeah, I always new it was going to be a jacked up night when platoon daddy would say, "Sgt Foster, you've got a ride along tonight".;)

No, another set of eyes was always welcomed. ESPECIALLY fresh eyes. I'm not all about the inside the wire vs. outside the wire crap that goes on. Throughout my time there I camped in transient all the way from Kalsu(sp?) through up to Balad, but mainly hung around Stryker, Falcon, and the smaller PBs around that area like PB Murrey and others I've since forgotten.

IDF is obviously no joke and presents plenty enough of a threat to mess with people.
 

Hacker15e

Dunning–Kruger Observer
I think you guys are missing the entire point of the article.

None of those guys are saying that the stress they're facing is equal to or worse than what boots out in the field are feeling.

Read that last sentence again. Nobody wearing a USAF flight suit, and especially the guys flying UAVs via satellite from Southern Nevada think that.

What they ARE saying is that they have a different type of psychological stress that is UNIQUE to the fact that they are "at war" at work, then go home and live "normal" life for the other 4 hours of the day they're at home (and not asleep). They're saying that stress is causing them problems that are PTSD-like.

You might think that being able to go home to mom and the kids after a day of killing Taliban sounds like a pretty good deal, but from the guys I know who are doing this (killing at work, and going to soccer games on the weekend), they say it is really worse than just being deployed to the AOR (for all the reasons mentioned in the article).

And the worst part is that there's no end to the "deployment" for them. There are dudes who have been doing this 2, 3, 4 years straight of 12 hour shifts flying UAVs. The community is so over tasked and undermanned right now that they're working their asses off indefinitely. It's not like at the end of the 179 days, or year, or 18 months they get to go back home and regroup. They just keep doing the same thing until they get an assignment elsewhere.

These guys I'm talking about are my buds whom I've deployed with in my F-15 squadrons to both OEF and OIF. Several of them flew with me in no-kidding real combat during the Shock-and-Awe days of OIF in '03, jinking out of the way of AAA and SAMs getting shot at them. These are guys who actually have been there and done that before...they are not a bunch of pusses who have never really been under stress and never seen combat.

These same guys are reporting that the "dual life" they have to live in their UAV job is causing them psychological stresses that they don't know how to explain and is causing them problems in their personal lives, family lives, and relationships.

So, like it or not guys, that's the freaking textbook definition of PTSD.

Again, nobody is saying they have it equal to or harder than guys rooting around on the ground. They ARE saying that there's something going on and that some of them need help.
 

Lefty

Well-Known Member
Lets say a UAV operator witnesses an IED emplacement, then trails them while calling in an AC-130. When the AC-130 arrives on station they lay some steel down...as the insurgents disperse it is your job to keep tabs on them as best you can while calling in for fire. Then unexpectedly a curious (and very innocent) man, climbs out onto his roof to inspect the ruckus, and his life at that very moment gets snuffed out by a few stray rounds...

Then go home and have dinner with your family knowing full well that you were partially responsible for an innocent mans death, most likely a father and husband.

These same guys are reporting that the "dual life" they have to live in their UAV job is causing them psychological stresses that they don't know how to explain and is causing them problems in their personal lives, family lives, and relationships.

So, like it or not guys, that's the freaking textbook definition of PTSD.

Again, nobody is saying they have it equal to or harder than guys rooting around on the ground. They ARE saying that there's something going on and that some of them need help.
 

Low_Level_Hell

Well-Known Member
I think you guys are missing the entire point of the article..... Again, nobody is saying they have it equal to or harder than guys rooting around on the ground. They ARE saying that there's something going on and that some of them need help.
After re-reading the article I agree. Guess it goes to show everything is relative. For some who have been deployed what they are saying is stressing them out is pale in comparison to their own experiences and the way PTSD is tossed around these days its easy to get a bit apprehensive for guys who never have been in harms way.
 

Low_Level_Hell

Well-Known Member
Lets say a UAV operator witnesses an IED emplacement, then trails them while calling in an AC-130. When the AC-130 arrives on station they lay some steel down...as the insurgents disperse it is your job to keep tabs on them as best you can while calling in for fire. Then unexpectedly a curious (and very innocent) man, climbs out onto his roof to inspect the ruckus, and his life at that very moment gets snuffed out by a few stray rounds...

Then go home and have dinner with your family knowing full well that you were partially responsible for an innocent mans death, most likely a father and husband.

Unfortunatly stuff like this happens despite the best efforts to minimize collateral damage. Exactly why no ground commander would send an AC-130 to go after one person in a populated area. Not making any more combatants in this conflict is a very big consideration.

What if the IEDs that man would emplace went on to tear up MRAPs full of dads, husbands, sons...? Being in the military I hope the UAV guys know this, while no one can control what they feel what did they expect when they joined in the first place.
 

Lefty

Well-Known Member
Being in the military I hope the UAV guys know this, while no one can control what they feel what did they expect when they joined in the first place.
I would say that it is fair for them to expect that they could possibly be put into this situation. There is no way anyone can expect to know how they will react when it happens.
 

Hacker15e

Dunning–Kruger Observer
There is no way anyone can expect to know how they will react when it happens.
That's really the core of the issue. The vast majority of the people who join the USAF (I'll be specific here since we're talking about UAV operators) to become pilots know exactly what they're getting into. These are not fresh high school grads joining the military to get money for college -- these are college graduates who have had plenty of time to think about the organization they're joining and what they might be called on to do.

In the same vein, they are told exactly what they may face during training. On my first day of T-38 training at UPT, my squadron commander said "your job is to kill people and break things, and if you can't handle that you need to find a different line of work." That fact is reemphasized at all levels of training, right into their operational assignments.

All that being said...there is nothing that can prepare you for real combat. There is no amount of mental preparation or training that can keep your blood pressure stable the minute you realize that war is a real life and death game. I know what that moment felt like for me -- I have never been so terrified in my life, completely frozen with fear.

What the training CAN DO (and hopefully does) is make each person professional enough to swallow their fear and press on with the job they have to do. The vast majority of us do exactly that, allowing our trained habits to guide us until we can start thinking rationally again.

But that reaction is only something you will understand when it actually happens.

I've seen guys who I thought would be ferocious killers based on their demeanor during training turn into complete pusses the minute the AAA and SAMs started flying. I've also seen guys I had doubts about during training turn into steely-eyed life takers when the actual combat started.

So, now we come to what happens after. Just like there is no way to gauge how a person will react when they are actually in a life-threatening situation, there's also no way to prepare for how they'll deal with things afterward. That is what these guys are dealing with right now.

Remember, most of these guys flying UAVs are full up trained killers who had no qualms about taking a life when they were strapped into their fighter. They knew the risks and were ready to do their job. Some of them actually had to do their job for real in no kidding combat. It's just this new level of stress -- a different type of stress -- that they'd never really prepared to have to deal with, which is causing some of them issues.
 
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