A Game of Life and Death
Drone Pilots and Career Induced Anxiety
My younger cousin spent hours upon hours this summer sitting in her basement, playing Call of Duty: Black Ops. She knows more about virtual guns than a fledging member of the NRA would know about real ones. She had 75 confirmed kills a day, a sore throat from yelling at the screen, and bloodshot eyes.
This behavior doesn’t concern me. As a smart and well-adjusted kid, my cousin understands the clear line between the game and the world, the screen and her life.
But this line becomes fuzzier with each passing advancement in military technology and there are people, on both sides of the gun, paying a price.
The Air Force designs drones, like the MQ-9 Reaper, to specifically be a hunter-killer ground controlled machine that has a flight endurance of 14 hours when fully loaded.
Despite looking like a typical middle schooler sitting in front of a screen for most of the day, the “confirmed” kills of these the Reaper pilots are much less innocent.
The life of a drone pilot needs to change, as their working conditions right now are unsustainable and possibly a matter national military integrity.
In a normal day, these pilots will be overworked and under constant pressure. They are meant to have all the answers consistently throughout their 8 hours, 9 hours, sometimes 12 hours shifts. Their jobs are high intensity, high endurance, just like the Reaper’s they are controlling. They are unlike regular pilots, who are only needed for short, quick, bursts of assault action.
After a shift at work, drone pilots, who work from the “comfort” of offices in America, get to go home to their family, friends, and domestic life.
But, while it may seem ideal to help your country fight overseas while still at home, these pilots also have no chance to compartmentalize their war experiences. They get up, eat breakfast with their children, help destroy the stronghold of dangerous insurgents, and then pick up some milk before returning home. War isn’t just some part of their life that they experienced while overseas, a time that may or may still haunt them when they come home. War is home for these drone pilots, it has seeped into their lives and soiled their supposed refuge. There is no line between their screen and their life.
Why does any of this even matter?
Having every drone pilot be so over worked and overstressed is unsustainable and irresponsible. Every year, 240 these pilots quit due to job-related stress and only 180 pilots graduate with the proper training to take their place. With less and less available pilots, the remaining have to then take on extra workload, increasing their stress, and probably reducing the quality of their work.
Think about it. If a drone pilot is too tired to see the children outside a car they are about to blow up, then who is to blame for the death of those innocent lives? Is it the pilot? The kids? Or those who subjected their workers to such harsh conditions? How will such mistakes be seen by the American people? The global community?
We pour so much money annually into military technology, but what’s the point of we don’t have enough of the right people to control it? What do we have to be proud of?
The life of a drone pilot needs to change. More pilots need to be hired, as shorter shifts and less stress will equal fewer mistakes. Unlike my cousins’ video games, the line between life and the screen doesn’t exist in this job. But the line between life and death doesn’t have to be so hazy.