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Mon, Aug 18, 2008

Report: Some UAV Pilots Experiencing Form Of PTSD

Though Far From Battlefield, Operators See Results Of Attacks In Vivid Detail

Growth in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to launch deadly attacks is producing a new form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The Associated Press reports Air National Guardsmen operate Predator drones over Iraq via remote control, launching deadly missile attacks from the safety of air-conditioned trailers in Southern California and Nevada, 7,000 miles away. They observe battlefields through video monitors, and then return to their homes and families at the ends of their shifts.

There's no question that's a cushier scenario than soldiers face on the ground, in the heat of battle... but the problem for UAV pilots is what they see at work. Colonel Albert Aimar is commander of the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing, and has a BS in psychology. He observes that in a fighter jet "when you come in at 500-600 mph, drop a 500-pound bomb and then fly away, you don't see what happens."

But in a Predator attack, the pilot has a high-resolution view of the aftermath. Compounding the problem is that the military often orders Predators to linger over battlefields to assess the effectiveness of the attacks.

"You do stick around and see the aftermath of what you did, and that does personalize the fight," said Col. Chris Chambliss is commander of the active-duty 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. "You have a pretty good optical picture of the individuals on the ground. The images can be pretty graphic, pretty vivid, and those are the things we try to offset."

And that creates a difficult dichotomy for UAV pilots. In a battle situation, experts say, soldiers and pilots grow conditioned to violence, and even accept it as the norm. But transitioning on a regular basis from shooting rockets at the enemy, then returning home to civilian life -- day after day -- is causing a strain on some pilots.

"We know that some folks have, in some cases, problems," Chambliss said. Aimar adds the stresses are, "causing some family issues, some relationship issues."

He declined to elaborate, but said the issues so far involved a small percentage of operators.

FMI: www.army.mil, www.af.mil

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