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
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
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
"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.