"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

Drone Crews Suffer From PTSD

Crews sometimes see ground troops take casualties or come under attack. They zoom in on enemy dead to confirm casualties. Psychologically, they’re in the middle of combat. But physically most of them are on another continent, which can lead to a sense of helplessness.

“That lack of control is one of the main features of producing stress,” said Air Force Col. Hernando Ortega, who discussed results of a survey of Predator and Reaper crews at a recent conference in Washington, D.C. They ask themselves, he said: “Could I have done better? Did I make the right choices?”

In the survey, 46% of active-duty drone pilots reported high levels of stress, and 29% reported emotional exhaustion or burnout. The data included Air Force crews who have flown drones over Iraq and Afghanistan, but not crews who fly drones over Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia as part of CIA programs.

Active-duty sensor operators, who operate camera and surveillance gear, reported high-stress rates of 41% and burnout rates of 21%. Mission intelligence coordinators, who are often separated from pilots and sensor operators, reported high-stress rates of 39% and burnout rates of 20%.

By comparison, a recent Families and Work Institute study found that 26% of civilian workers were “often or very often burned out or stressed by their work,” and a Yale University study found that 29% of workers felt “quite a bit or extremely stressed at work.”


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