For the mobility aircrews, it's working for a system that seems to have little concern for the quality of their rest and morale. It is commonplace for the crews to work for 20+hrs straight, try to sleep completely off their regular circadian rhythm, and then do several more 20+hr work days. What does the system do? Ask them to do it again and again. Fatigue and frustration hovers above them, waiting for its chance to settle in.
I didn't fully realize this until I joined the community as a Reservist a little over a year ago. I always thought this line of work in the military would be like an early retirement: lower risk than my previous life (as in it's rare to get engaged by the enemy and the mission threats are low), relaxing hours of cruising at high altitude on auto-pilot, having a flushing toilet on board and traveling to new and interesting places.
Well, that can be the case, but often it is not. Dependency on Ambien or sleeping drugs becomes the norm in this time-zone hopping, circadian rhythm crushing world. Those challenges are shared by other aircrew throughout the military (Lord knows I was popping Ambien like no tomorrow in my previous job), but I find the constant cycle of 20+hr days and little thanks or consideration by the Command & Control system to be acutely destructive.
In the AFSOC world, it seemed to me that our circadian rhythm and sleep quality was always respected. Were there 24hr days? Hell yes, but that was not the norm. Was adequate time allowed for recuperation? Whenever possible. Did the command structure regularly give thanks and praise for work? Absolutely.
From what I've seen, when mobility crews call to check in with their remote command and control, they almost cringe as they dial the airborne sat phone. Why? Because month after month, year after year, they've grown accustomed to someone thousands of miles away telling them their work-day just got extended, their rest just got shortened to the bare-minimum allowed, and their request to change any of it is denied. To be fair, it's possible to get lucky and convince 'the system' to give a few extra hours off in-between flights, but that's the exception, not the norm.
So I raise a toast to the Mobility Air Force crews who are flying around the world, napping 2hrs here and there on the floor or bunk of the plane, chugging coffee and Red Bulls to fight off their bodies' need for sleep and then using sleep drugs to force a few hrs rest as they hop through time zones day in and day out. Hollywood and the media doesn't glorify your mission. It's often taken for granted. There is no lull; your fight never ends... it is 24/7. I give my respect and appreciate the hard work! Blue Skies. --RMM