01 March 2010

UAV operators gain new respect

Over the past two days, there's been a heated debate over at the official WOI page on Facebook regarding the awards and benefits bestowed upon those who operate the US military's ever-growing fleet of unmanned aerial systems. It's no understatement to say that the proliferation of these craft is drastically challenging the organizational culture of the world's air forces.

The debate was inspired by a recent article in the Washington Post (H/T SWJ). Some of the high points so far:

1.) Special wings for UAV operators. There was a little debate on this issue, however, I think much of the disagreement stems from the fact that not everyone is aware that plenty of non-aviators wear "wings". In the Army alone, air traffic controllers, flight ops specialists, maintainers, crew chiefs, flight medics and flight surgeons wear either the Army Aviation Badge or the Army Flight Surgeon Badge. By that precedent, UAV operators should at least be eligible for some sort of badge.

2.) Flight Pay. I think there was universal disagreement on this one. Remember, that extra "aviation incentive pay" is designed to keep pilots from leaving the service and flying for Delta Airlines or piloting helicopters for the local news service. UAV operators, as near as I can tell, aren't leaving the military in droves to fly for Delta.

3.) Valor Awards. This is a sore subject for some. The fact of the matter is that we give away combat awards frivolously; a Bronze Star can be awarded to someone for never leaving the safety of a forward operating base. Nor does one even need to engage in combat or come under fire for an Air Medal. By those standards alone, UAV operators should be able to receive Bronze Stars and Air Medals. Distinguished Flying Crosses...eh, probably not.

Want to join in? Head on over to the official WOI Facebook page.


J. said...

Okay, Bronze star for exceptional actions, but no V for valor device. They don't meet the criteria if they're not in theater and exposed to danger. As for Air Medals? Come on. Hard to imagine.

Starbuck said...

Air Medals are just like Bronze Stars, though. You can get them for service, as opposed to valor.

The Air Medal is one of those awards that's subject to interpretation. Some Vietnam-era pilots got an Air Medal for every mission they flew, or for every x many hours. Today, some organizations limit pilots to one AM per tour. Some AMs are given for achievement during a mission.

You can even get an air medal for sitting in the back of the C2 aircraft during an air assault.

Unknown said...

I agree with the above comment on the Valor device. I can't imagine what sort of corruption of the military's definition of valor would have to be attempted to even begin to justify giving these out to UAV pilots.

nrodgsxr said...

USAF UAV operators aren't leaving the service because they CAN'T. I know I would leave the service and get a job flying airplanes or at least join the reserves/guard. Most UAV operators are forced to stay in until they serve their 10 year commitment from pilot training and are forced to leave a manned cockpit to operate a UAV. If you take the flight pay from these guys you will only further exacerbate the manning problems the Air Force has keeping pilots in the UAV community. Nobody wants to stay in that career field.. it's a black hole right now. The air force currently has a assignment freeze that prevents UAV operators from leaving.