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PTSD among drone operators

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PTSD among drone operators

Old 13th Jul 2015, 20:05
  #21 (permalink)  
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Do they get treatment for piles?
Why does everything have to be a race to the bottom these days? Who's to say whose PTSD is more valid FFS
These two posts appeared in sequence, though I don't think the second was an answer to the first.

But I did chuckle.
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Old 13th Jul 2015, 22:16
  #22 (permalink)  
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PTSD after sitting in a tin box at Waddo? YGBSM!!
I spent a number of years at Waddo and can quite understand why people there might have a mental breakdown.

And before anyone gets on their high horse I speak from (very) personal experience.
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 07:23
  #23 (permalink)  
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I remember a story about a Battle of Britain Veteran showing a group of Social Workers around the Battle of Britain Museum. He could see that one young lady was dying to ask him a question and she finally blurted out, did you ever get shot down. He replied that yes he did one morning and was flying again that afternoon. She was amazed and asked "didn't you receive counselling"?
I think his reply was that his counselling was a kick up the ass by his boss and told to bring the Hurricane back next time!
True or not I don't know but I think it shows how PTSD can affect different people in different ways.
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 08:01
  #24 (permalink)  
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While I appreciate some may be upset at being denied permission to wear foreign medals, that hardly compares with watching a ten year old child trying vainly to stop the spray of blood from a wound you've just inflicted on his father. Thankfully the hierarchy apparently do appreciate the extreme stress and that PTSD isn't associated solely with personal physical risk.

There is another big source of stress here, brought on by the very close monitoring of every decision and action of a RPAS pilot; that of legal accountability. It is entirely feasible that some lawyer even in ten or fifteen years time after scanning the slow-motion replay of an engagement may decide someone needs to be prosecuted.
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 08:20
  #25 (permalink)  
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The modern RAF is also quite familiar with IDF.

The 18 Scuds fired at Dhahran and the 7 at KKMC would have been a similar total number to 2 weeks worth of incoming at Basra, and that went on for years without the luxury of the defensive Patriot umbrella you(?) were sat under.

I guess for many fleets it must have been difficult getting out of the 70's flying club mentality and heading off to a real conflict.
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 09:58
  #26 (permalink)  
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A drone operator may have to remain on station with cameras zoomed in on the target they have just hit, and therefore have to witness the immediate aftermath of what they have done. By comparison a fast jet crew would not be able to see everything in the same manner simply because they do not have the equipment to enable them to do so.

That's what OC 13 is saying, I think, and I can see where he is coming from.
I am not deriding that they may suffer from it, but then you could watch similar on Live Leaks, so does that mean viewers of that channel could also suffer from PTSD from viewing the strike and aftermath?
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 10:44
  #27 (permalink)  
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Originally Posted by taxydual View Post
Easy to solve.

Let the Drone Driver do his thing (wearing the obligatory flying suit), then, come the moment of truth, let a trained member of the ARMED FORCES of the UK press the trigger.

Like it or not (and if you don't like it, find another job) the RAF are part of the ARMED FORCES not some part of the hugs and cuddles brigade.

And before someone has a 'go' at me, I have had pointy bang things aimed in my direction and have fired pointy bang things back. Not nice, but that's what I was paid for after signing up to join an ARMED FORCE.
You, Sir, are a c*nt.
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 11:35
  #28 (permalink)  
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BEagle said:

PTSD for drone operators surely means "Pass the sodding doughnuts!"...

Because we won GW1 with so few casualties (and MoD refused to accept 'Gulf War Syndrome'), no-one seems to have given much concern to how those who faced nightly Scud attacks and were ordered to take experimental anti-anthrax drugs, NAPs etc felt after getting back to 'normal' work....where the PONTIs had been safely polishing the chairs for 6 months.

A colleague who'd been shot down in the South Atlantic had similar problems and was marched off to the funny farm until his wonderful wife went down and kicked ar$e at Wroughton.....

Although a generous MoD did tell us "You aren't allowed to wear the medals you were awarded by the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emir of Kuwait".... Thanks, chaps....

PTSD after sitting in a tin box at Waddo? YGBSM!!
As usual, BEagle can't waste an opportunity to display his prejudices against "drones" and "drone operators." It's interesting that in his mind, PTSD can be suffered by "those who faced nightly Scud attacks," those who "took experimental drugs," somebody who'd been "shot down in the South Atlantic" (although he was a "colleague" so presumably worthy in BEagle's mind of suffering PTSD) and even those who "aren't allowed to wear their medals." Now, as just an (ex) "drone operator" myself, and not a member of any of the above groups, I can't comment on whether or not the people above will develop PTSD. I've seen enough to know it's possible though.

What I can say categorically is that PTSD is an ever-present risk to those who observe the sort of operations carried out by RPAS crews (including the Int person in the back of the cabin). It's not always the obviously difficult sights that they see that necessarily provides the trigger - as others have said, it can be a very simple, innocuous thing. I won't go into detail for obvious reasons, but I'm aware of a person who operated Reaper who was quite disturbed by the sight of a potential target enjoying lunch and a bit of family down time with his young daughters - an activity we watched at length, and in some detail. This clearly resonated with my colleague, a man who had a family of similar composition. When we 'applied force' some time later it had an effect on him which I'm almost certain will come back to haunt him in future. As others on here have alluded to, the combination of shift patterns and the desire to return to the family at the end of a shift removes the traditional military "apply beer and sort out your problems" approach to getting these things straight in your mind before they have a chance to take root. Of course, I could be wrong - I'm not a psychologist and BEagle says that "drone operators" can't get PTSD.

I don't want to get into the argument, if there is one, about manned vs unmanned and who is most at risk of PTSD. However, I know from experience that PTSD can be a serious problem for those associated with RPAS. It's not well understood, but thankfully there are decent people out there, like OC 13 (who, by the way, has both manned and unmanned experience in Afghanistan Ops), doing their level best to make people sit up and take notice of one aspect of a problem which frankly should concern all of us.

Finally, a colleague of mine prematurely retired from RPAS ops due to the stress it caused him. He was a member of Taxy Dual's "ARMED FORCES" who had years of Hangarshuffle's "grading" gained during previous fast jet ops. The way he was treated by some of our mutual "colleagues," openly voicing their disbelief of his problem, made me ashamed to be associated with them. For Taxy Dual's benefit, he was selected and trained to be a member of the ARMED FORCES and for many years he carried out his duties as a member of the ARMED FORCES (including applying lethal force when required), but in the end it got to him. He asked to be, and was, moved on, but not before some took the opportunity to openly express their arrogant disregard for his mental condition. If any of you feel the same way as some of his so-called colleagues, and some of those on this forum, then you are all a little less of a person than he is.
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 12:53
  #29 (permalink)  
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I experienced personal risk to life over the last 16 years as a pilot and an Int officer. I didn't reach the front line as a pilot, but had a few close shaves with airproxes, weather and faulty FADECs(!). As an Int guy I look back at how I dealt with incoming rocket fire in Basra. It was frightening at the time but we learned to live with it, all while prosecuting the enemy with ISTAR and kinetic effects. For a while after I got back I was a bit jumpy around fire alarms and suchlike, but alcoholic decompression and cameraderie helped a hell of a lot.

I also had the chance to experience a bit of what 13 Sqn do now. I didn't observe a target's pattern of life all day surrounded by civ cas, but I watched from a comfy CAOC as many members of the Taliban put-putted their way across the desert on motorbikes, minding their own business (sort of) only to watch them disapppear in a cloud of black and white mist. Did I feel jumpy or sad about that? No. Chalk em up.

This will all be a pleasant memory in a few months.

Best of luck to those who stay in this undermanned RAF to sort out the myriad crises flaring up across 3 continents. (Sorry for my part in helping to cause some of them...!)
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 13:03
  #30 (permalink)  
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Training Risky wrote:
...I watched from a comfy CAOC as many members of the Taliban put-putted their way across the desert on motorbikes, minding their own business (sort of) only to watch them disappear in a cloud of black and white mist. Did I feel jumpy or sad about that? No. Chalk em up.
Quite so - do the crime, pay the time.

Little 'counselling' was given to those poor buggers who were exposed to 'the players' in Norn Irn, or suffered in the South Atlantic, or in GW1 or in all Tony Bliar's 'bring a bottle' wars..... It was often a case of "Oh, you're back, are you? Guess what, you're SDO this weekend" etc.

Now the problems are perhaps better understood, but is watching drone imagery really in the same league as facing direct hostile action?
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 13:46
  #31 (permalink)  
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Some of the comments on this thread making fatuous comparisons between tasks, theatres of operation or eras are contemptible in the extreme and verge on a return to a culture of using terms such as "man-up" or LMF. The mechanism by which a serviceperson begins suffering with post-traumatic stress is irrelevant, what's important is that it is recognised and treated, whilst concurrently the risk of others suffering in the same way is mitigated/minimised or managed within the bounds of practicability.

As for BEagle, words fail me. I can only assume that you are being deliberately contrary in order to provoke debate. That, or you are just an out of touch curmudgeon displaying a complete and studied absence of understanding of the modern operating environment.
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 13:55
  #32 (permalink)  
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You still don’t get it, do you? PTSD is not all about being shot at. It’s an anxiety disorder caused by any one or a combination of things – just go to the NHS website here and see for yourself. The same web site says it “is estimated to affect about 1 in every 3 people who have a traumatic experience.” You’re right, little counselling has been offered to those unfortunates in the past – over the years, we have had various responses to PTSD ranging from people trying their best to help all the way down to shooting sufferers at dawn during WW1. Nobody, anywhere, is claiming that RPAS ops are “in the same league as facing direct hostile action” but try, just for once, to set aside your prejudice and recognise that there are many ways to acquire a disorder such as PTSD.

Training Risky:

Watching (or causing) people to “disappear in a cloud of black and white mist” didn’t make me sad or jumpy either, so good for you. Perhaps you are one of those who only watched the “interesting five minutes” before getting back to writing those pesky detachment reports on your staff to while away those long night-shift hours. It appears you and I are the lucky 2 in every 3 people who appear not to suffer from this condition - please spare a thought for the other unfortunate 1 in 3, he or she might just be a friend of yours.
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 15:49
  #33 (permalink)  
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Thumbs up

Well said Sargs, on all counts.
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 17:10
  #34 (permalink)  
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sargs, I don't for one minute think that there is no such thing as 'PTSD'.

Also, it can happen a long, long time after the event era. Some keep certain things, such as recurring nightmares and flashbacks, to themselves though - probably some generational thing when the 'stiff upper lip' was supposed to be the universal solution, or when people simply kept themselves to themselves as best they could.

Not that I'm saying that those days were any better ....
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 19:59
  #35 (permalink)  
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That, or you are just an out of touch curmudgeon displaying a complete and studied absence of understanding of the modern operating environment.
How very astute of you.

Just because the MoD didn't understand something 30 years ago does not mean it should not and does not understand something a little better today. Many of the Stiff Upper Lippers on here probably served when smoking, lead paint and asbestos didn't kill you.
Oh. But they did. We just didn't know any better at the time.

Some keep certain things, such as recurring nightmares and flashbacks, to themselves though - probably some generational thing when the 'stiff upper lip' was supposed to be the universal solution, or when people simply kept themselves to themselves as best they could.
Bottling it up and not talking about it is somehow better?
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 20:46
  #36 (permalink)  
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I must confess to being dismayed at the attitudes displayed here by some posters. I have been privileged to have met 13 Sqn and their hugely professional team.

My own take is that we have yet to fully grasp the enormity of what we're asking the average drone operator to do. They are expected to spend days or weeks acquiring a hugely intimate understanding of a person or persons, often for it to end in legally sanctioned murder at their hands. I have no issue with the use of force, but I think its easy to forget that this is not an act that many would expect to be involved in.

By this I mean that the majority of HM Forces will serve with enormous distinction, but are unlikely to directly pull the trigger on an enemy combatant, and even less so one who they've watched from afar for so long.

The challenge facing the operators is that they are expected to work in a very stressful environment, doing hugely challenging work (and I suggest to anyone who doubts this spend time with them at work and you'll quickly realise the challenges they face). There is no 'gozome bird' or chuff chart for them to use, nor the mental release of knowing its a tour and that they are there to work without distraction for 6 months prior to some leave and family time.

Instead they are expected to spend a sustained period of time going to work in the morning from home, handling some very challenging work then going home in the evening to little Timmy falling off his bike or a domestic issue. The sudden shift in environments is not mentally easy and there is doubtless a lot of mental pressure placed on them as they shift between two very different roles. Arguably the pressure they are under is different to any other element of HM Forces, at least since WW2 in that they are engaged in daily kinetic operations from the home base.

This isn't about who has a bigger willy for being shot at, its about recognising that we have people who are effectively working in combat conditions (e.g. flying missions, releasing ordnance) day in day out for years at a time, while being expected to be a live in partner / spouse / parent throughout.

This is a whole new challenge for the RAF and we have to ensure it is handled properly - e.g. good mental health support, good access to counselling and no stigma or 'LMF' tag attached to those who no longer want to do it.

We have to get this right.
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 21:15
  #37 (permalink)  
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For what it's worth - and I don't claim to have any personal connection with it, the articles I've read on the matter describe the term "PTSD" as a broad one that encompasses many manifestations.

While some on this forum have concentrated on the stress induced by "personal danger" ala WW1 shell shock, there is a sizeable body of evidence on the effect of transgressing the intra-species killing inhibition that most successful species (homo sapiens included) are equipped with.

The figure 11 target (an identifiable human image) is used to increase the likelihood of a soldier actually aiming and firing at the enemy, by de-sensitising the intra-species killing inhibition. The same effect is achieved by letting the young play video games where humans are killed. The same effects not achieved when the target is a fictional non-human creature.

It has been proposed that the reticence that 95% of have in killing another human is increased by the proximity to the actual event. Authorising a target is likely to have less effect than using a bayonet or dagger to kill your target.

From this proposition came the argument that snipers would not be affected as much as an infantryman - but the argument was countered as snipers often see the effect of their shot in great detail. There are also inconsistencies in data as snipers are usually selected through arduous courses that play a part in their conditioning.

So where does that leave our drone operators?

Am I wrong in suggesting that they are aviators with no great driving ambition as the primary reason for career choice (as with most military aviators I know) to close with and kill an enemy?

Add to that the circumstances that allow them to identify in great detail with their target while having to conduct life as normal, as opposed to being segregated from normality and surrounded by war-going peers, and should it be any wonder that some have decided to call it a day? And what next for them? Surely leaving the job is an early symptom?

Where's the team spirit? Just because you can't see the wound, doesn't mean there isn't one. Surely the Service would be keen to show some humanity and responsibility to our front line (and they are), particularly after the MoD have been so recently criticised for the intransigence that lead to the deaths of 3 good men in training.
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Old 14th Jul 2015, 23:17
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Sounds like they need some de-sensitisation training, maybe some time spent with the grunts and being exposed to the reality of the lives of their protagonists and what they are capable of doing?

We've all read the reports of good-guy Afghans turning on their coallition trainers or in our own recent cases in the UK, seemingly devoted family men going to blow up the tube or off to join ISIS. I am saying that what they may witness on the drone close-up is probably just part of the story. The reality is that the even unscrupulous killers are quite capable of doing the everyday sorts of domestic things that they are seeing, but then equally capable of then going out and planting an IED. Some time seeing the reality of that environment or at least recieving good, immersive training could reveal another sort of aptitude or serve as a reality-check before they get to do the job for real.

It doesn't help that the RAF (for good reason admittedly) selects heavily on aircrew aptitude, but maybe neglects some of the character traits that may actually be needed? Lots of the pilots I have met have been great guys; highly achieving, intelligent and sociable, enjoying the challenge of flying demanding, complex aircraft and likeing the squadron comaraderie and crew-room banter. Parents are proud, friends are impressed, but in a lot of ways some of those I have met seem to have actually led very sheltered lives with no real adversity apart from that which has been self-imposed. Maybe it is time that the RAF takes more account of what traits are really desirable and how best to identify them? how ruthless are they, how are they likely to bear up and how well do they really understand everything that the job entails? The old joke about the RAF being the best flying club in the world sounds kind of hollow from what the previous posters have been describing, yet I have met people that on a certain level, really seem to believe it. Maybe a different, rather less pleasant sort of person with adequate flying skills would be a better fit?

I truly believe that anyone can get PTSD, however I think maybe a bit of a change of emphasis, more rigourous screening and immersive training would actually make better sense considering what they are being asked to do on our behalf.

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Old 15th Jul 2015, 01:33
  #39 (permalink)  
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I seem to have had a similar career to training risky. Excluding a suicidal EFATO at Salmesbury when I was 17 my scariest time on the ground was in Basra in 07. It in no way compares to what our combat troops see and do but it effected me for some time.

I'm out now but I spent a lot of time following people from afar courtesy of the likes of 13 and trying to kill them. It's not Hawkinge 1940 but it's how the RAF do business. Neither is it youtube. I can still recall with lightening clarity an SA-3 crew in 03 going about their business as my colleagues and I organised then witnessed their death. The ARMED FORCES are just that and despite the Reds and imminently privitised yellow helicopters, violence is core business. 1997 was the last year the RAF did not kill the enemy.

I wish 13 and their people the best
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Old 15th Jul 2015, 08:09
  #40 (permalink)  
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You can't screen for PTSD vulnerability, just as you can't screen for someone who may develop depression at some stage. The tests don't exist. And if you expose people to a traumatic event by way of training you are just as likely to cause an injury as if the event was combat-related. As for immersion, that is exactly what the Reaper operators are getting and it is perhaps one of the reasons why some are affected by the experience.

I am not sure what you are getting at with your 'real adversity' comment? Do you mean physical hardship, life-threatening illness, personal tragedy or social deprivation? Or do you mean spending time in the field? None of these things will make you immune from the mental impact of a traumatic event. It is the nature of the event that creates the stress, not the environment. These people are having to take life frequently and that is not easy in any circumstances. It is one of our natural taboos, hence the trauma - killing is not a normal human activity. Sadly, it is part of military business and it will always affect people in different ways.
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