Metro-East News

Mental health group plans to hold another ‘Climb for PTSD’ in Sauget

News-Democrat

June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month, while June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day. Which is all very fitting, since the folks behind Climb For PTSD plan to hold another event to publicize PTSD awareness on the evening of June 27 at GCS Ballpark, in Sauget.

Group founder Linas Grybinas, a Fairview Heights mental health professional, plans to haul volunteers in a classic fireman’s carry up and down the park’s stadium steps, raising both awareness and funds for outreach programs to people with PTSD, a chronic anxiety disorder brought on by exposure to life-threatening events such as military combat, violent crimes and sexual assault. For more information, visit the group’s Facebook page .

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Nearly a year after America went to war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, growing attention is being paid to the high burn-out and PTSD rates of the increasingly stressed-out Air Force drone pilots helping to lead much of the air war against the militants from underground bunkers in Nevada.

“The unique challenge of this situation is they think about combat a little bit differently,” an Air Force psychologist named “Doc” told DefenseOne.com. “If there’s a guy lobbing grenades at me, I don’t have time to consider, ‘What do I think about warfare?’ It’s a survival thing. Here, because we’re so far removed from the battlefield geographically, they’ll think about warfare in more philosophical terms.”

Last month the Air Force announced it is reducing the total number of daily drone missions from 65 to 60 to reduce the workload at least a small amount. Some people in the Pentagon had wanted to up that number to 70 to keep pace with demand.

The New York Times has reported that the 1,200 existing drone pilots are wearing down physically and psychologically, not only because of the grueling nature of their work but because they're doing so much more of it. To confound the problem, the Air Force is have problems finding new recruits, too.

The Defense One article pointed out that a big cause of burn-out is the sense of isolation that many Air Force drone crews feel. A drone pilot named “Kristi” said the isolation is made worse by the fact she and other drone pilots “can just go home” at the end for their shifts at Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas.

“With other assets, you’re deployed and you make it back to your base, there’s a camaraderie,” Kristi said. “You can say, ‘I just flew the worst mission.’ There’s a sense of family, cohesiveness. Here, we get in a car and go to a 5-year-old’s soccer game.” she said.

The story concludes that this isolation, which distinguishes the job of drone pilot from others in the military, “is tough but, technically speaking, it isn’t trauma. It’s a new malady that the military doesn’t know how to recognize.”

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A group that helped sponsor commercials urging drone pilots not to fly missions has launched a new effort to persuade drone operators to disobey their orders, according to the Air Force Times.

KnowDrones.com has submitted a letter to media outlets that urges drone pilots and sensor operators to refuse to fly surveillance and kill missions.

Nick Mottern, a Navy veteran and a coordinator for KnowDrones.com, said his group is concerned that drone pilots and sensor operators can face a court-martial for not following orders. That said, KnowDrones.com believes the U.S. drone campaign “is completely against international law.”

When asked why a drone operator should refuse to fly a mission, Mottern replied: “One answer would be, ‘To save your soul.’Another answer would be, ‘To not kill people who are being targeted without any due process.’ There are higher laws than military law.”

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533.

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