Daily transition between battle, home takes a toll on drone operators
Call it combat as shift work, a new paradigm of commuter warfare that is blurring the historical understanding of what it means to go off to battle. And the strain of the daily whiplash transition between bombs and bedtime stories, coupled with the fast-increasing workload to meet relentlessly expanding demand, is leading to fatigue and burnout for the ground-based controllers who drive the drones.
“We have 5,000 years of one type of warfare and only a couple of years of this new kind,” said P.W. Singer, author of “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.” “These guys are simultaneously at home and at war. It may be that human psychology isn’t designed for that. We don’t know yet.”
With all due respect (and Murdoc’s got a TON of respect for our guys in uniform), I’m not sure if I’m really buying the “war during the day, home at night” description because the “war during the day” part is nothing like the war that soldiers have fought for the past 5,000 years. Isn’t UAV operation more like air traffic control than infantry?
“It can be very surreal,” Capt. Zeb Krantz, a former C-130 pilot, said about stepping into the ground control station and entering the battle space. “You think: ‘I was just at home this morning.’ ”
What I find surreal are some of the examples:
“The family pressures don’t go away, they heighten,” Singer said. “You’ve just been on a combat mission and half an hour later your spouse is mad at you because you’re late to soccer practice.”
For those stationed at Creech, there seems to be an ever-receding finish line. The Air Force hits one target of production only to see it get bumped higher.
“It’s hard to forge that esprit de corps, that tribe mentality when you can’t all go to the bar after work and decompress together,” Mathewson said.
Overall, Predator and Reaper crews tend to be “tired, disgruntled and disillusioned,” Kent said.
Not to minimize the stress issues, and I have no personal experience to compare it with, but I’m guessing that a lot of troops deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan would be happy to deal with the issues facing drone operators.
(I’m sure I’ve pissed off people here. That wasn’t my intent. What do you guys think?)