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Air Force Suffers From Severe Lack Of ‘Nintendo Warriors’

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New reports indicate that America’s reliance on drone warfare in the Middle East could be in jeopardy, but not for legal reasons.

It’s not politics or ethical investigations that are the latest threat, but the simple fact that drone operators are calling it quits in record numbers. Plagued by the trauma of civilian deaths and a heavy workload, drone operators are quitting faster than they can be replaced, and the Air Force is at a loss on what to do, TomDispatch reports.

Currently, about 1,000 drone pilots work in the program, but the Air Force would ideally like to have 1,700.  This goal has proven difficult to accomplish, though, since for every 180 pilots that graduate from training annually, 240 quit.

High expectations and long hours for drone operators force dropouts which then leads to that heavy load being dispersed among even fewer operators. The vicious cycle repeats, often with 12-hour days six or seven days a week. On top of that, many operators are scarred by what they’ve seen, some even claiming PTSD.

Also, many drone operators report hating that they’re treated as second class soldiers.

“And everyone else thinks that the whole program or the people behind it are a joke, that we are video-game warriors, that we’re Nintendo warriors,” Ex-Air Force Pilot drone operator Brandon Bryant told Democracy Now. “And that’s—that’s really not the case. And these—the people that do the job are just as legit and just as combat-oriented as anyone else.”

The Air Force has had to scrape together pilots by taking regular cargo jet pilots and reservists, TomDispatch reports.

Drone operators mostly engage in surveillance and intelligence gathering operations, but some are expected to kill key targets.

With the U.S’ increasing reliance on drones for its middle east “kill  list,” failure to keep the program staffed could have serious long-term implications the war on terror and the spread of groups like IS.

Earlier this year, The Daily Beast obtained an internal Air Force memo from Air Combat Command Commander Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle memo to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh that expressed grave concern over the lack of manpower to operate drones.

“ACC believes we are about to see a perfect storm of increased COCOM [Combatant Commander] demand, accession reductions, and outflow increases that will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 enterprise for years to come,” Carlisle said in the memo. “I am extremely concerned.”

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