Morale: Commuting To War Backfires


October 30, 2009: The U.S. Air Force is having some unique morale problems with their UAV operators. It all has to do with the fact that these pilots are going off to war, and returning home to their families each night. In the past, pilots said goodbye to their families, went off to a combat zone, and lived with combat full time. But now, it’s been discovered that the stresses of combat and family life do not mix well at all.

While UAV operators do not experience physical risk, they do go through much of the psychological stresses of combat. UAV operators are operating, via a satellite link, aircraft that are in the combat zone. They, and their sensor operators, can often see the fighting below, and sometimes join in by firing a missile. That is as “close” as an F-16 pilot gets to the action, and the UAV operators get pumped. Some get so stressed, because they spend more time “in the air” than if they were flying a jet fighter, that they develop stress related psychological problems. And all these pilots, go home after their shift, to face family or friends, who have little appreciation for what they have been through. Moreover, because their UAV work is classified, they cannot talk about it with the spouse or friends, even if they wanted to.

The air force has considered sending the UAV operators over to the combat zone. But that is expensive, and, even with the stress problems, most UAV operators prefer doing their job from air bases in the United States. But the unique stress of dealing with working, if only remotely, in a combat zone, while still living at home, in a non-military environment. It's a unique situation, that calls for some unique solutions.



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