I am a naturally curious person. It is likely what drew me into a career in journalism in the first place, but as I have gotten older and married a service member, that curiosity isn’t always the best.
In fact, my husband sometimes refers to me as the OPSEC girl. And it’s not a compliment.
This is the OPSEC girl:
She is trying to get secrets out of this non-military looking guy, but the message is one in the same – there are parts of your job that others can’t know for security reasons. This can be everything from where service members are deployed to, to when they are coming home to their entire job.
I’m notorious for asking my husband questions. I am not a spy but what if I slipped and said something that I shouldn’t have in the first place when out at dinner? What if I post too much information online?
OPSEC is one of the most important acronyms you will run across as a military spouse. It stands for Operations Security and means how the military protects information that could be used by our enemies to defeat us.
You most often hear about OPSEC during deployment, but it can also refer to trainings at home.
OPSEC used to be compromised of spy networks overhearing what military community members would say in public, but with the prevalence of social media, it is so much easier to find out information with a quick search.
Think about how easy it is to Facebook stalk your high school ex-boyfriend and see his smiling family enjoying their beach vacation. Now imagine that instead of your ex searching for you online, the person searching is a terrorist or spy. Yes, that is scary to think about, but whatever they see on your profiles could either show nothing or information that they can use. In the past ISIS-affiliated groups targeting U.S. service members posted lists of service members and their personal information online, so it is more important than ever to be vigilant about what you are sharing.
This guide is meant to protect you, not scare you. At the end of the day OPSEC keeps our service members safe. So while you may be like me and ask a million questions or just want to know when the heck your spouse will be home, here’s what you need to know:
The Smart Military Spouse’s Guide To OPSEC
Don’t Share Dates Or Times Online
When service members are coming and going from deployment or a training you’ll likely be given information from your FRG or spouse about their travel. You may want to share this information far and wide, so that your families are informed and that your support network can help spring into action but before you share – stop yourself, someone could use that information in a bad way.
For instance, we were once in a unit that delayed coming home from a training stateside by half a day because a spouse posted the exact time they were leaving the field on their social media page.
So who can you tell? You can tell family and friends, but on the phone or in person, even send them an email, and be sure to remind them to not share the details.
Do not post specifics until your spouse is at their final destination. This will keep all service members safe and not delay that homecoming any longer.
Don’t Share Specific Locations
Sure you can say “my spouse is in Afghanistan” but you should not mention their exact base or other descriptive details, such as how long they will be gone.
This information could let the enemy piece together which units are where, and yes bases are well known, but exactly who is there could compromise a mission.
The best example of this is sharing your service member’s mailing address. Yes, they definitely want those care packages, but again, share that information privately via email or other private message. Don’t blast it out on Twitter or your Facebook wall for the world to see.
Don’t Share Mission Information
Your spouse could be heading to the coolest port in the world or heading out on a patrol, but do not share that information until after the job is done and they’ve returned safely to their base or ship.
While you may want people to send prayers or you may want to commiserate that you can’t talk to your loved one, if shared publicly it could let the enemy know exactly when troops are heading their way and you don’t want them to know that.
Instead, call your best friend to talk about how much you miss them or make plans with friends to help take your mind off of things. You’ll feel better and have fun! Just be sure that if you’re in a public place to not talk about the details because someone could overhear you.
You May Not Want To Hang A Yellow Ribbon
Yellow ribbons have long signified waiting for a loved one to return from war, but especially if you live off post, you do not want that information to be widely known. It signifies that a service member is gone – OPSEC – and could even compromise your personal safety since it shows that you are alone at home.
There have been cases where service members’ homes have been robbed when people follow spouses with the “half my heart is in Afghanistan” bumper sticker to their home and come back when they see that the car is not in the driveway.
How To Safeguard Your Online Profiles
At the end of the day make sure your profiles are secure. On sites like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat be sure that only people that you approve can see your profile. To make sure those settings are secure, go to your account and look for Privacy.
Facebook allows you to view your profile as public to see what is truly locked down and what’s not. To access this go to your profile and click the 3 dots button on the bottom right corner of your cover photo and select “view as.” It will then allow you to select the audience that you want to check.
If your public profile shows every photo and status you’ve ever shared – you should go straight to your account settings and select Privacy – for your own safety and potential OPSEC. If you have a public profile, be especially careful with what you post.
For example, I have public profiles on Twitter, Instagram and a blog, but when my husband is away I am particularly careful when talking about the nights alone, when he left or his job because it could compromise our safety.
Remind Your Whole Family Of These Rules
OPSEC doesn’t just relate to service members or spouses, it’s everyone! So as you share information, like addresses or dates, remind family and friends to keep that information close to the chest. OPSEC can be violated by anyone, so while yes, you should share information with your family and friends, they should also be made aware of what not to share and how to keep their online profiles secure.
At the end of the day, this doesn’t mean don’t talk to your spouse about their job or service. Good communication is the foundation of a healthy relationship; however, there may be times when he or she can’t tell you everything. They aren’t holding back information to be spiteful, they just can’t share it with you yet.
Talk about expectations of your time apart and keep those lines of communication open while they are away, but just know that if you talk about their deployment at Starbucks or post about it online, you can’t be sure who else is listening or watching.