Doing a job where you kill strangers on the other side of the world and then go home to your family every night is the kind of thing that can grind people down, the military admits. Drone operators have a high burnout rate, and the Air Force says it expects to lose more than it trains this year, meaning drone flights will be cut from around 65 a day to 60 despite the Pentagon's demand for more flights over multiple conflict zones, the New York Times reports. Drone missions have risen tenfold over the last 10 years, the Times notes, and many veteran operators have now completed their service obligations and are opting to leave—some of them for the private sector, where they can earn four times as much.
Col. James Cluff, commander of the Nevada-based Air Force wing in charge of drone operations, tell the Times that many pilots feel "undermanned and overworked" and are struggling with the challenge of going from home to war every day, "driving into the gate and thinking, 'All right, I've got my war face on, and I'm going to the fight,' and then driving out of the gate and stopping at Walmart to pick up a carton of milk or going to the soccer game on the way home." To make life easier for the operators, the military has brought in physiologists and chaplains, as well as psychologists, National Defense reports, and also plans major improvements to the patched-together, hard-to-use ground stations that were rushed in more than a decade ago.