Many years ago, there was a famous saying of “Loose lips sink ships.” While the aspects of this have changed significantly as communication channels have changed, the overall message remains the same – don’t talk about what you know.
Today, keeping information safeguarded is known as OPSEC or Operational Security. This is an incredibly important task for military members, military families and friends. We never know who may be listening or trying to gain information about our military. For this reason, it is always important to make sure that information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
First and foremost, those who serve in the military should not be sharing sensitive information with others who are not in the military. It is important to realize that this may even include sharing pictures online. A seemingly innocent picture can actually provide a lot of information to the enemy including weapons systems and location.
If those in the military do not share information with family members or friends, it is much less likely that they will slip up and say something that could put the military member or his unit in danger. He should always be aware of what he is saying when he is sharing information about his day. This is particularly true when he is away training or when he is deployed overseas.
OPSEC generally covers several different scenarios that should never be discussed with those who are not on a need-to-know basis. This includes:
- Deployment dates. This includes when troops are deploying overseas and when they are redeploying back home. In addition to leaving and returning from the deployment as a whole, this also includes when soldiers leave and return for R&R leave time.
- Training. Information on where, how and why they train should not be shared. Information that appears benign to us may be just what the enemy needs.
- Numbers, equipment or other security information. Information about the number who are involved, the type of equipment or weapons systems they use or other sensitive information should never be shared.
- Troop movements. In addition to not sharing deployment dates, when they are overseas, it should also not be shared when they are leaving for a mission or changing locations.
As a general guide, the following statements would violate OPSEC:
- My soldier deploys in the 2nd week of November…or in three days…or next Tuesday…or in the next week. All of these statements reveal a date of deployment, even if it is not overly specific. It is best to keep this information to yourself. If you must share, such as with friends or family, do so over the phone and not in a potentially public forum such as Facebook.
- My husband’s unit is leaving for three days to conduct OPFOR (opposing force) training in Louisiana. While they are gone, they will be doing activities x, y and z. This is too much information and is not necessary for anyone to know. You can generally say he is gone for training if you feel safe in doing so, but there’s no reason to detail his training while he is gone.
- Please say a prayer for my soldier’s unit. They are leaving tomorrow night to go on a mission in Kabul. This is entirely too much information and puts the mission as well as his unit at risk. You can ask for prayers for him or his unit without giving out specific information. Knowing that he is deployed overseas should be enough of a reason to add him to the prayer list.
Keep in mind that some units may have more specific and stricter OPSEC guidelines. For example, many special operations units will not allow the family to discuss the deployment at all. No one is allowed to know that the unit is deployed. If your military member’s unit has stricter guidelines, you should follow those OPSEC rules when speaking about your military member or his unit.
While for many units it is completely acceptable to say that your spouse is deployed, always consider who is receiving this information. For instance, you may not want it to be posted in your local newspaper to alert everyone that you are now living alone. Be smart in who you speak to about his deployment. There’s really no reason to alert strangers to his absence.
And that brings us to PERSEC or Personal Security. This is protecting your personal information. While the military is not as strict on PERSEC as they are on OPSEC, it is still an important aspect of security.
PERSEC focuses on protecting information such as rank, your home address and information about your family. Generally, it is basic common sense that reminds you not to advertise that you are living alone or otherwise giving out personal information to others who you may not know.
PERSEC has become more important with the invention of the internet, particularly with the number of military support message boards that are out there. While it may seem to be a safe community full of other military members, it can never be guaranteed to be 100% secure. For this reason, you should always safeguard your personal information. Just as you wouldn’t advertise your social security number online, you shouldn’t alert everyone to your other personal information either.
If you ever have questions about OPSEC and PERSEC and how it applies to you, you can always contact the family readiness group for guidance. If they are unable to answer your questions, they should be able to refer you to someone in the unit who can find the answers for you.
The absolute best advice is that it is better to be safe than sorry. If you question whether you should be talking about something, especially online, then don’t. Ask someone first, such as your soldier, before you say something that you may not be able to take back. Protecting our soldiers is a responsibility that rests on all of our shoulders. As family members, we can be responsible by keeping confidential information close to the vest and protecting what we know.