The Air Force is updating its awards to recognize drone pilots and hackers

US airmen tasked with jobs like surveillance and cyber operations have a growing role on the battlefield, even though they are often physically distant from it.

To ensure that kind of work is recognized, the Air Force has introduced new hardware for its service men and women.

“As the impact of remote operations on combat continues to increase, the necessity of ensuring those actions are distinctly recognized grows,” Defense Department officials said in a memo published on January 7, 2016.

Now the Air Force has released criteria for new devices that signify different roles in military awards: “V” for valor, “C” for combat, and “R” for remote.

The “R” device “was established to distinguish that an award was earned for direct hands-on employment of a weapon system that had a direct and immediate impact on a combat or military operation,” the Air Force said in a release.

US Air Force devices awards

The US Air Force’s ‘V,’ ‘C,’ and ‘R’ devices. Photo courtesy of USAF.

This refers to work done anywhere, as long as it doesn’t expose the service member to personal danger or put them at significant risk of personal danger. The new device would recognize the actions of drone pilots, cyber operators, and other airmen carrying out combat operations far from the battlefield.

“These members create direct combat effects that lead to strategic outcomes and deliver lethal force, while physically located outside the combat area,” said Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services.

The “V” device denotes “unambiguous and distinctive recognition of distinguished acts of combat heroism,” while the “C” device was created to award airmen and women who perform “meritoriously under the most difficult combat conditions.”

While the devices were unveiled this week, they can be rewarded retroactively to January 2016, when the defense secretary established them.

The US military’s increasingly reliance on drones has created more demand for drone operators.

drone operators

Drone operators remotely fly an MQ-1 Predator aircraft, October 22, 2013. Photo courtesy of USAF.

The service, which is straining under a personnel shortage, has introduced a new tiered bonus system to retain personnel, and drone pilots were among those in highest demand.

They, along with fighter pilots, are slated to get the highest maximum bonus of $35,000 a year.

Despite their distance from the battlefield, drone pilots’ duties in US campaigns throughout the Middle East and elsewhere has put them under some of the same strain faced by personnel who are forward deployed.

A 2013 study by researchers with the Defense Department found that drone pilots faced mental-health issues like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress at the same rate as those who flew manned aircraft over places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some pilots have spoken of the “psychological gymnastics” they adopt to deal with the mental and emotional impact of killing remotely.

TOP ARTICLES
SpaceX launching a third top-secret satellite

SpaceX is launching a secretive mission this month. The mission, shrouded in secrecy, has some considering it may be for the CIA or the NSA.

This is how the Air Force will use prop planes on high-tech battlefields

The Air Force is looking toward a light-attack aircraft program, known as OA-X, to produce a plane that meets its needs and gets the job done.

A retired SEAL commander on how to stop thinking and 'get after it' every day

This former Navy commander has some excellent advice on how to jump start your day, and "get some" in order to make it as productive as possible.

Marines return to battle in 'old stomping grounds'

The Marines recall their "old stomping grounds" as they return to Fallujah and the surround areas of Al Anbar Province to battle a new enemy.

How Chinese drones are set to swarm the global market

China has stepped up it's drone game, and even though United States technology can still compete, China's drones are kind of really in demand.

That time two countries' Special Forces squared off in combat

In an area the size of the Falkland Islands, British and Argentine special operators were bound to run into each other at some point – a lot.

5 times pilots got in trouble for having fun in the sky

When pilots decide to do some fancy flying in their high-performance fighters, it can land them in trouble once they're back on the ground.

This is why Nazis dubbed these paratroopers 'devils in baggy pants'

"American paratroopers – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night," wrote one German commander.

9 ISIS weapon fails that you have to see to believe

Many bad guys just want record themselves laying rounds down range for social media purposes — and we're glad they did. Laugh away, America!

US Army recruitment campaigns, ranked from worst to best

Advertising can really impact recruitment for the military. For better or for worse, here are some of the Army's most memorable slogans...