WASHINGTON — Sen. Claire McCaskill has asked Air Force leaders to address a “unique form of combat stress” suffered by drone pilots engaged in remote surveillance and killing U.S. enemies.
These pilots are not physically on the battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan; they operate instead from installations in the United States, including Whiteman Air Force Base.
But just like a pilot flying an F-16, drone pilots conduct deadly strikes on militant fighters abroad – often watching the resulting carnage unfold on live video. Then, they go home to their families or interact with the civilian world in ways that deployed soldiers do not.
A drone “pilot could be sitting down to a meal with his or her family less than two hours after killing Islamic State or Taliban fighters on the other side of the world,” McCaskill, D-Mo., wrote in a June 18 letter to Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force’s chief of staff. “They could be playing with their children shortly after witnessing up close and in graphic detail the effects of a 500-pound bomb or Hellfire missile on a soft target.”
McCaskill said she became concerned about the toll this new kind of warfare is taking on drone pilots after a recent visit to Whiteman, home of the 20th Reconnaissance Squadron.
That unit includes technicians, administrators and pilots who operate the MQ-1 Predator,an unmanned aerial vehicle used to gather intelligence and conduct deadly strikes. The Predator can carry two Hellfire missiles or other munitions.