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I found this excellent article in the Washington post. The key emphasis items for me are two-fold: First, I find it interesting that after this much war we still can't figure out how to recognize guys for doing outstanding work but not worthy of DFC. Some communities are big on single event air medals, some are not. If we're going to keep good guys motivated to be the best, we need to reward them publicly with some kind of medal/ribbon. I'm not a fan of increasing the bling, but seriously, the awards available to UAV guys pale in comparison to the value of their work. That needs to change, and re-defining the meaning of valor thereby diminishing the valor of army guys breaking contact is NOT the right answer (ref final paragraph).

Secondly, and this is highly controversial, I think all our senior/strategic thinkers failed us from the end of Vietnam to the start of the current wars. We had decades of guys writing issue papers about what the "next war" would look like and what assets should receive the most money/time/attention. The fact is, those guys uniformly failed to predict the importance of UAV's or the importance of winning guerilla war. I question our ability to think 30 years into the future when our senior leaders have been failing at this for so long. I know a former dean of the national war college who thinks we'll have to lose a war before we can radically change the content of the curriculum. The following article is long but excellent:

Combat Generation: Drone operators climb on winds of change in the Air Force

By Greg Jaffe

Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The question, scrawled on a Pentagon whiteboard last fall, captured the strange and difficult moment facing the Air Force.


"Why does the country need an independent Air Force?" the senior civilian assistant to Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the service's chief of staff, had written. For the first time in the 62-year history of the Air Force, the answer isn't entirely clear.

The Air Force's identity crisis is one of many ways that a decade of intense and unrelenting combat is reshaping the U.S. military and redefining the American way of war. The battle against insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq has created an insatiable demand for the once-lowly drone, elevating the importance of the officers who fly them.

These new earthbound aviators are redefining what it means to be a modern air warrior and forcing an emotional debate within the Air Force over the very meaning of valor in combat.

Since its founding, the Air Force has existed primarily to support its daring and chivalrous fighter and bomber pilots. Even as they are being displaced by new technology, these traditional pilots are fighting to retain control over the Air Force and its culture and traditions.

The clash between the old and new Air Force was especially apparent in the aftermath of the 2006 strike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of the al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq.

Predator crews spent more than 630 hours searching for Zarqawi and his associates before they tracked him to a small farm northeast of Baghdad.

Minutes later, an F-16 fighter jet, streaking through the sky, released a 500-pound bomb that locked onto a targeting laser and killed Zarqawi.

The F-16 pilot, who faced no real threat from the lightly armed insurgents on the ground, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the same honor bestowed on Charles Lindbergh for the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Predator pilots, who flew their planes from an Air Force base outside Las Vegas, received a thank-you note from a three-star general based in the Middle East. Senior Air Force officials concluded that even though the Predator crews were flying combat missions, they weren't actually in combat.

Four years later, the Air Force still hasn't come up with a way to recognize the Predator's contributions in Afghanistan and Iraq. "There is no valor in flying a remotely piloted aircraft. I get it," said Col. Luther "Trey" Turner, a former fighter pilot who has flown Predators since 2003. "But there needs to be an award to recognize crews for combat missions."

The revolution

It is the job of Schwartz, the Air Force's top general and a onetime cargo pilot, to mediate between the old and new pilot tribes. In August 2008, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates tapped him to lead the service, the first chief of staff in Air Force history without a fighter or bomber pedigree, reflecting Gates's frustration with the service's old guard.

A quiet and introspective leader, Schwartz has turned his attention to dismantling the Air Force's rigid class system. At the top of the traditional hierarchy are fighter pilots. Beneath them are bomber, tanker and cargo pilots. At the bottom are the officers who keep aircraft flying and satellites orbiting in space.

Schwartz has also pushed to broaden the Air Force's definition of its core missions beyond strategic bombing and control of the skies. New on his list: providing surveillance imagery to ground troops waging counterinsurgencies. Today, the Air Force is flying 40 round-the-clock patrols each day with its Predator and Reaper unmanned planes, an eightfold increase over 2004.

"This is our year to look up and out . . . to ask big questions," Schwartz said in an interview. "Who are we? What are we doing for the nation's defense? . . . Where is this grand institution headed?"

One answer to those questions is taking shape at Creech Air Force Base, an hour's drive from Las Vegas, where the Air Force launched a trial program to train a first-ever group of officers with no aviation background or training to fly the Predator. Before the trial program, virtually all of the Air Force's Predator and Reaper pilots began their careers flying fighter jets, bombers or cargo aircraft and were temporarily assigned to three-year tours as drone pilots.

By 2007, the Air Force started to realize that it didn't have enough traditional pilots to meet the growing demand from field commanders for Predators and Reapers. When Gates pressed for an expedited program to train officers without an aviation background to fly drones, the Air Force initially resisted. Only a fully trained pilot could be trusted to maneuver an unmanned aircraft and drop bombs, some officials maintained.

At the rate the Air Force was moving, it would have needed a decade to meet battlefield demand. Schwartz changed the policy.

"We had a math problem that quickly led to a philosophical discussion about whether we could create a new type of pilot," said Maj. Gen. Marke F. Gibson, the director of Air Force operations and training. With Schwartz's backing, Gibson crafted a nine-month training program for officers from non-flying backgrounds, including deskbound airmen, military police officers and "missiliers."

The crash program has been controversial, particularly among traditional pilots, who typically undergo two years of training. "We are creating the equivalent of a puppy mill," complained one fighter pilot.

One of eight initial trainees was Capt. Steve Petrizzo, who joined the Air Force in 2003 hoping to fly F-16s. He was too nearsighted to fly planes, so the Air Force assigned him to a nuclear-missile base where he manned a concrete capsule 50 feet below ground, waiting for the order to launch.

Petrizzo leapt at the chance to fly the Predator. "I wanted to be in the fight," he said.

His first six months of training beginning in early 2009 focused on the basics of flying. The last few months of instruction were spent in a ground control station maneuvering a simulated Predator through video-game reproductions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

One day last summer, inside the cramped and aggressively air-conditioned ground control station, the tension between the old and new Air Force was obvious. Maj. Andy Bright, an F-15 pilot turned Predator instructor, was coaching Petrizzo through the simulations.

In one scenario, Petrizzo followed a squad of soldiers through a village. Suddenly, the troops were hit with a blast of sniper fire and sprinted for cover. Although Petrizzo quickly spotted the insurgent, it took him almost five minutes to maneuver his plane into a spot where he could get off a shot that wouldn't also spray the soldiers or nearby civilians with shrapnel.

Those few minutes amounted to an eternity to soldiers under fire. Bright counseled Petrizzo to think more about how he positioned his plane. "Flying a Predator is like a chess game," he said. "Because you have a God's-eye perspective, you need to think a few moves ahead."

Four hours and several ambushes later, Petrizzo and Bright sat across from each other in a conference room for a mission debriefing. Bright was professional. But it was clear that he had doubts that any officer could be ready to fly combat missions after just nine months of training. "I have to spend a lot of time with them on the very basics," Bright said of Petrizzo and his fellow officers in the program. "They are still learning how to maneuver a plane."

The graduation ceremony for Petrizzo and his classmates raised a new set of questions for the Air Force: Should the new graduates wear the same wings as traditional pilots? Did they qualify for extra flight pay? Should they even be called pilots?

Schwartz decided the graduates were pilots. Even though they didn't leave the ground, they would receive flight pay. On the day of the ceremony, the general flew in from the Pentagon to pin a specially designed set of wings on each of the trainee's uniforms. The traditional shield at the center of their wings was festooned with lightning bolts to signify the satellite signal that connects the ground-based pilots to their planes.

"You are part of the major new Air Force development of the decade," Schwartz told the graduates.

A few days later, Petrizzo and his classmates were flying missions over Afghanistan.

Top-down changes

Lasting cultural change won't take place in the Air Force until officers who serve in these new fields rise to the top ranks, which are still dominated by fighter pilots.

Because of the huge demand for drones, the pilots who fly Predators and Reapers aren't being allowed to leave bases such as Creech for other assignments that would give them the experience they need to ascend to higher ranks. Today, there are about a dozen officers with experience flying Predators and Reapers on the Air Force staff in the Pentagon, compared with more than 100 fighter pilots.

"My guys understand this mission is important," one squadron commander told Schwartz on a visit to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico in late January. "But for them this tour is never-ending."

Some senior Predator and Reaper commanders are leaving the military because they probably won't make general. In a few weeks, Col. Eric Mathewson, who has more experience with unmanned aircraft than just about any other officer in the Air Force, will retire after 26 years.

The former F-15 pilot started working with the Predators in 2000 after he hurt his back and was unable to fly. As a squadron commander during a bloody 15-hour battle in eastern Afghanistan in 2002, Mathewson saw his Predators outperform the Air Force's most advanced fighter jets.

Dug-in Taliban insurgents had surrounded a dozen U.S. troops who were fighting for their lives. F-15s and F-16s screamed overhead. But the fast-moving planes couldn't get off a clean shot at the enemy's main bunker without also wounding the American troops.

Army commanders refused to bring in vulnerable helicopters to evacuate the dead and wounded until an enemy machine-gun nest was destroyed.

Crouched behind a cluster of boulders, the Army Ranger platoon leader radioed that one of his soldiers was bleeding to death in the snow. He needed help fast.

A pilot from Mathewson's squadron at Creech Air Force base guided his drone over the Ranger position. The Predator had never been used in a hot battle to support ground troops, and the Air Force controller embedded with the Rangers was hesitant to let it fire.

To prove its accuracy, the Predator crew launched one of its two Hellfire missiles at an empty hilltop. The hit was accurate, but it left the drone with only one missile. The pilot steadied his plane and squeezed the "pickle" button on his stick, setting loose his last missile and obliterating the Taliban machine-gun nest. "We would have all died without the Predator," the controller recalled months later to Air Force officials.

A few months after the battle, Mathewson unsuccessfully nominated several of his airmen for the Distinguished Flying Cross -- an early effort to win medal recognition for Predator crews.

Blocked from rewarding his troops with traditional battlefield honors, Mathewson searched for other ways to build camaraderie among his pilots and camera operators. Shortly after he arrived at Creech for his second Predator tour in 2006, Mathewson wrote a new mission statement for his squadrons.

"Most mission statements are long, complicated and italicized," he said. "Mine was three words: "Kill [Expletive] Heads." His troops shortened it further to "KFH" and painted it on the cluster of trailers that served as their makeshift headquarters. They emblazoned KFH on their unit letterhead. Everyone in the unit carried a poker chip bearing the three letters.

"It reminded us that our job was all about the combat and doing things right," Mathewson said.

After Creech, the Air Force sent Mathewson to the Pentagon, where he spent most of 2009 drafting the service's road map for developing remotely piloted aircraft through 2047.

The plan that Mathewson produced for the Air Force envisions unmanned planes not only providing surveillance and striking targets, but also hauling cargo around the world. Instead of flying just one plane, a single pilot would probably control as many as four or five planes simultaneously. "If I am doing a surveillance mission where the plane is literally just staring at the ground or at a road for eight or ten hours, I don't need a pilot actively controlling the plane," he said. "So maybe I have a squadron of 40 aircraft but I only have four or five people monitoring them." The Air Force and Mathewson have already demonstrated in training that one pilot can fly as many as four Predators.

Col. David Sullivan, who commanded a Predator squadron at Creech, describes Mathewson as one of the Air Force's "visionaries."

The next generation of unmanned planes is likely to demand even greater changes from the Air Force, Mathewson said. The craft will require new kinds of organizations, new types of bases and new kinds of officers who will never peer through a fighter-jet canopy in search of the enemy. Old notions of valor are likely to disappear.

A decade of drone combat has already led Mathewson to adjust his definition of the word, which is a part of almost every combat award citation. "Valor to me is not risking your life," he said. "Valor is doing what is right. Valor is about your motivations and the ends that you seek. It is doing what is right for the right reasons. That to me is valor."

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Looking for some help. Been searching/reading forever but can't find the post a while back linking to some new ISR capes our UAVs are getting/fielding. For the life of me I can't remember the call

The ACC A3 gave talks on Sunday and on Monday at Creech saying that all UPT guys that got UAVs out of UPT will have a manned cockpit waiting for them at the end of their first assignment. With the cu

So this must be good news for the RPA community.  Finally a decent AD location.  http://www.wjhg.com/content/news/Tyndall-to-house-new-MQ-9-Reaper-Wing-460607493.html  

The brass want to reward me? Really? Well this is the first I've heard of it. What's that? You want to give me a medal? Seriously? You think a ######ing medal is what I want? Oh, you want to give me flight pay, too? And incentive pay besides? Awesome! How bout I give you all my flight pay, incentive pay, I'll take a paycut besides, and just get me out of here. Here's some better ideas if you want to reward me:

1. Allow me to compete against my peers and earn an assignment out of this God-forsaken community. I've worked over 2 years trying to make things better here and it just isn't going to happen.

2. If 1. is impossible, or more likely, you are just unwilling to do it, put a base at a place that is not the armpit of America. Indian Springs, Alamogordo, Clovis? Are you dry-poking me? I thought BUFFs had it bad. Do these clowns realize that you can "fly" these little white turds with wings from anywhere? ANYWHERE! Isn't that the whole point of drones? I don't know what I'm going to do when I lose my easy access to hookers and blow here in Vegas and have to go to Holloman.

3. Give me the same ADSC as the shoe clerks, navs, and E's that do the same job I am doing.

4. How about you try and....whoa....where am I?

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Guest Falco

That was one hell of a rant man, :salut::beer:

Is your tour almost up at Creech? I was under the impression you guys only had to do that for two years and then got to move on to another airframe. I am uneducated about these UAV/UAS/Drone/whatever else they are called, tours

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Is your tour almost up at Creech? I was under the impression you guys only had to do that for two years and then got to move on to another airframe. I am uneducated about these UAV/UAS/Drone/whatever else they are called, tours

To educate you, it was supposed to be a standard 2,3,or now 4 yr tour. But the power's that be continue to change their minds about the number of necessary CAP's provided to ground forces. Only because ground forces' appetite for UAV's is insatiable. And, in my opinion, the AF is still fighting for relevancy (money) in the current wars. This never-ending increase has caused AFPC to freeze people in only the UAV community "for now." The freeze lift has been shifted to the right 3 times now, currently until 30 Sep 2011. And I expect to see it shifted to the right more. I, personally, am predicting a real stop-loss on the UAV pilots in 2012. My prediction is based on the fact that quite a few UAV pilots will be coming up to the end of the 10 yr ADSC w/o any option of returning to a real aircraft. I'm sure there will be a number of UAV pilots that will stay in, but I'm predicting the majority will decide to punch. This large exodus of people could possibly lead to a stop loss w/i the UAV community. The only way to leave the squadron right now is via retirement, ADSC, or go to a UAV schoolhouse. It has been passed along that if you are in UAV's for 5 yrs or more you are done. And if you do two UAV assignments you are also done (locked).

And to continue spewing out my opinion. I would like to compare UAV operation to being Infantry. They are both geared towards a specific mission and are vital to the military fight. But they have almost zero relevance to a regular civilian job. The most you could do is research and development for some company working with UAV's. But for the most part if you want to continue in those professions outside of the military you are limited to 3-lettered organizations and a few other gov't agencies. At least in the Infantry you are leading, guiding and mentoring troops. UAV's, not so much.

I welcome any "feedback." I'm starting a betting pool on the month that they start the stop-loss. My money is on July 2012.

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  • 3 months later...

So has anyone heard of anyone being able to leave the pred after doing 1 tour at creech?????

I just got tagged with an assignment there and I'm trying to scheme my way out somehow.

Anyone thinking of volunteering for one? I will be your best friend. :)

Edited by nrodgsxr
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The ACC A3 gave talks on Sunday and on Monday at Creech saying that all UPT guys that got UAVs out of UPT will have a manned cockpit waiting for them at the end of their first assignment. With the current forecast for that to be ~300 people at that point in time. To put that in perspective currently ~150 UPT guys have already gotten assigned to UAVs.

Additionally, the manning is supposed to be increasing to 10 crews per CAP, which is "supposed" to shift the schedule from 5 on 3 off to 4 on 4 off. Right now the ops squadrons are hovering around 7 crews per cap, but things are constantly in flux as more caps get added.

He also talked about companion trainers, which are supposed to be on their way within a year, and they are working to put some kind of MTS ball on them so the sensors can ride along and do their thing as well.

Granted this could all change tomorrow, but that is what they told the people at Creech.

The only thing we know for sure about this community is shit changes fast, but it never manages to get less shitty for the people who are unwillingly stuck in it and simply want out. So heres to the guys just sucking it up and doing the job, because they have too. :beer:

Edited by Magellan
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Guest Falco

Maybe it was a knee-jerk reaction, Ellsworth would not be so bad. My point is more that I do not understand why we can't put them in undeniably nice locations if there are no actual aircraft being based there. Like Patrick, not much there but space operators and miles of gorgeous Florida beach front base housing.

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So has anyone heard of anyone being able to leave the pred after doing 1 tour at creech????? I just got tagged with an assignment there and I'm trying to scheme my way out somehow.Anyone thinking of volunteering for one? I will be your best friend. :)

ACC A3 said that soon (relative, because it has been said for years) when they reach the 10 crews per cap, that cross flow boards will open up and the ops sqs will start to get much-needed CT lines. The caveat is that the rate of returns to airframes (anyone not out of UPT) is not guaranteed to be very high. The "non-competitive" boards will consider the dude's potential for leadership growth in the UAV community versus in their respective airframe. If you're a Pred superstar, it sounded like they would keep you around to keep experience and leadership in the UAVs. However, he said slacking off won't help your case either. If they deem it will not benefit you to return to your airframe from a career perspective, you are also screwed. Personal preference was stated to be a consideration, but that remains to be seen.

The ACC A3 gave talks on Sunday and on Monday at Creech saying that all UPT guys that got UAVs out of UPT will have a manned cockpit waiting for them at the end of their first assignment.

Almost everyone. He also mentioned that Creech WG/CC has the option to keep anyone he wants if it is someone they think will be good for the UAV community (see above), but it should be a fairly high percentage. Everyone also has the option to stay...

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  • 2 months later...

The standard AF answer of "it depends" is the right answer. There are some sweet little trips out there to nice places, but the majority is to less than fun places...however, those less than fun places tend to be pretty fun/rewarding TDYs. The good deals are mostly reserved for folks that have paid their dues in the sq and are in jobs that facilitate those trips (eg...DOV/DOW/DOT/XP, etc...)

There are some awesome exchange opportunities on the horizon...but that is all talk right now. I think we will see it around 2012/13.

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For Preds at Creech

TDY's - Other than training, rare. Except some guard exchanges which are actually pretty good. Other than that you can expect to go TDY to any "great" training location for training such as LRE and possibly FTU.

PME - I'm assuming you mean in residence as you can do it by correspondence (home or deployed) whenever. I know of at least one Capt that went in residence, so it's possible.

MC-12, etc. - You could probably volunteer all you want. So far nothing like that has happened.

This is what I've seen over the past 1.5 years. Who knows what it will look like in 2 months though or 1 week for that matter.


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MC-12, etc. - You could probably volunteer all you want. So far nothing like that has happened.

Not entirely true...the SQ/CC at the 11th did an MC-12 deployment as a pred guy, and there is a 15th guy currently doing an MC-12 gig. So Creech has sent a few pilots to MC-12 deployments, however to make this happen the trend seems to be you have to be an O-5 type with a fair bit of clout.

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Not entirely true...the SQ/CC at the 11th did an MC-12 deployment as a pred guy, and there is a 15th guy currently doing an MC-12 gig. So Creech has sent a few pilots to MC-12 deployments, however to make this happen the trend seems to be you have to be an O-5 type with a fair bit of clout.

Yeah, I was aware of the O-5 from the 15th but I figured it to be essentially non relevant for an O-3 Capt type which is where I assumed the question was originating from. They had asked the question at another time and while there were suitable volunteers, like everything else in Pred, it changed in a couple weeks and was no longer available.


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wow I just got an email asking if I wanted to change my assignment from Creech to Whiteman.. I thought about just replying with "FVCK YOU" but decided AFPC probably wouldn't like that. Anyone headed to preds might want to be on the look out for an AFPC screw job to put bodies at Whiteman

It probably won't make much of a difference, really.

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I know Vegas has it's perks but Whiteman has a few as well as far as UAS's goes. No commute and probably a chance for a tighter community (sts). I can only imagine that schools are better and you still have KS City 45 mins (only about 15 mins more than McCarran in Vegas) away for a major airport. It's Ops rather than training and it's not NM. I'm not saying it's "the place to be" but a few things to consider.


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  • 4 weeks later...

According to Air Force Times article: "Ellsworth will be home to about 280 airmen and civilians flying five patrols per day, said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. The squadron should be in place by January 2012. Whiteman will get a similarly sized squadron, expected to be fully operational by February 2011, Missouri senators said."

So does "in place" mean initial cadre, but not fully operational? Has anyone been asked to help stand the Ellsworth SQ up yet?

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Ah yes... the Stop Loss...

But the 10 year commitment and UAV/RPA slots wont be the only draw. Dont forget we are about 17-24 months away from the start of a major boom in airline hiring as a go-zillion 65 year old airline pilots are forced outta the cockpit starting in 2012. Talked at length on a flight with a Delta guy this weekend. They are talking over 1000 hires for Delta alone in the coming 2-3 years. If you've got multi-engine time/IP/EP its gonna be tough to pass on that 365/RPA/MC-12 to Balad when the airlines are taking all comers [/sarcasm] Im sure it wont be as grand as the forecast but thats a factor nonetheless.

Stop Loss for all my friends!


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5. Eligibility. For the inaugural board, all officers who currently have an 11/12U duty AFSC will apply for and meet the board if any of the following apply: (1) volunteer to recategorize to the RPA MWS, or (2) have a RPA FTU course graduation date before 1 Oct 08, or (3) have a date of rank to Major of 1 Sep 10 or earlier, or (4) are a Lieutenant Colonel. Officers who have a RPA Rated Management (RDTM) code, regardless of duty AFSC, will also apply for and be revalidated by the board. The board will only consider Regular Air Force Officers.

Edited by nrodgsxr
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The ultimate catch-22... In order to meet the board to return to fly, you must first volunteer to stay in RPAs forever? WTF??? I call BS on that one. I can see the headlines now: "RPA morale soars, 100% volunteer to stay in the community... and they all are accepted."

Too true. The next asshat that tells me "You volunteered for whatever the Air Force has in store for you when you signed you 10 YEAR commitment" is gonna get punched in the face.

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