Link to the full article.
Not every drone is a soulless machine. Behind many of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles circling above places such as Pakistan and Afghanistan are Air Force personell. These drone pilots sit in their offices and utilize a system of computer monitors and joysticks to control their drones thousands of miles away.
You may think that such a job seems easy, especially compared to most military jobs. You’re not in the fight. You’re life is not in any jeopardy. No one is shooting at you, and all you see of the battlefield is a picture on a monitor being fed to you by a camera mounted on your personal flying robot.
Or perhaps that is the biggest blow to one’s sanity in such a situation.
An interesting fact that the article brings up is that many targets of drone pilots aren’t just randomly picked out to be fired upon. Often, pilots are ordered to use their drone to conduct surveillance on a person of group for a long period of time. In some cases, this could include watching your target discuss battle plans with his comrades (or is he just chatting with some friends?), create a civilian shield to make your job more difficult (or is that his family?), and perhaps even find some strange little secret that he likes to show off when he thinks no one can see him. This is all taken in by the pilot with the knowledge that he may eventually be ordered to fire a missile from his drone directly onto this target, vaporizing him and ending all these aspects of his life in a second. The detachment of the computer screen can certainly worsen this effect; by all means, it’s quite an unfair advantage to the pilot.
Although I cannot find it again, a few months ago I read an article about one such PTSD diagnosed drone pilot who told quite a disturbing tale. During one such surveillance operation, he noticed a small child walk behind a building, the same one his target was staying in. A few minutes later, he was given clearance and orders to destroy the building and eliminate the target. After firing the missile, as it was in flight, he remembered the child that he saw behind the building; had the child left the area, or was he still back there, dozing in the shade, unaware of the massive explosive devise rocketing towards the building he was next to? The pilot did not know whether or not he had just caused the death of a child, and this uncertainty has haunted him ever since.
I tend to over-think things on a constant basis. The more important the decision, the more I brood over it as if my life depended on it, and with this mindset, I don’t think I could handle such a job as a drone pilot. R.C. planes are certainly fun to fly, of that there is no doubt, but the strange attachment one makes to the targets one is given, almost like an assassin stalking a blissfully unaware victim, would wreck me. I probably wouldn’t last a month.