I’m going to be honest: as a new military girlfriend, I was absolutely terrible at OPSEC and PERSEC. I was so new to the whole military thing that I didn’t really grasp what it was, what information was important to protect, or why it was even a thing I should worry about. After all, I was a girlfriend with limited knowledge of anything.
Except, even as a military girlfriend, I knew things. I knew when John was on leave. I knew where his trainings leading up to deployment were held and when they were. I had been on base and an aircraft carrier.
It doesn’t sound like a lot. But that information is all stuff that should be carefully protected.
Okay, so what are OPSEC and PERSEC?
Operational Security (OPSEC) “is a systematic method used to identify, control, and protect critical information and subsequently analyze friendly actions associated with military operations and other activities” (from Navy.mil). Think about OPSEC as protecting military information– troop locations, information about your installation, deployment dates and times. Of course, that’s not a definitive list.
Personal Security (PERSEC) is identifying, controlling, and protecting information about your life. This is the kind of information that everyone– regardless of military connection– should be careful about anyway.
A great rule of thumb for OPSEC and PERSEC: if someone could use the information you’re sharing (or piece it together) to do something nefarious– like break into your house when you’re not home or figure out troop movements– you should be overly cautious with that information.
1. Deployment Countdowns
As wonderful as counting down to a reunion might be, it’s safer (and less depressing when a return is inevitably moved) to count up rather than down. It’s impossible without other information to discern when someone is coming home from a count-up, while a countdown makes it super, super easy. If you have to have a countdown, keep it off your digital devices and don’t take pictures and share it.
2. Sharing screenshots and pictures
Double- and triple-check those screenshots and pictures before posting to social media. Do they have any identifying information on them like dates, times, name tapes, or locations? If you want to be completely safe, don’t post them anywhere. Remember, anything online– even in a private group or text– can be screenshot or saved and passed around. Even if the reasons aren’t nefarious– say, your mom just sharing information with your extended family– it’s still a violation of safety standards. After all, you cannot control where a downloaded photo ends up or how the information will be used.
Maybe you’re lonely and scared. Or frustrated and annoyed. Or any other of the myriad emotions that come from deployments or PCSes or TADs… or just military life, in general. Resist the urge to spew it all over your social media or in real life in public. It sounds crazy, but what might seem like a soul-cleansing whinefest could give valuable information that might be dangerous. “Another Christmas without Bob!” alerts people that you’re in the house alone with (most likely) a lot of valuable presents under the tree. “When she called yesterday, she said they’re going into northern Syria,” lets people know about troop movements and locations. “There was only one guard on duty at the base gate this morning,” can give people information about how the base runs. If you really can’t keep it inside, find a trusted confidant for a private conversation or grab a journal and write it down.
4. Assuming social media is all that matters
Social media is not the only way to share information accidentally. Be careful about what you say in public, too. You don’t know who is listening or how that information may get into the wrong hands.
5. Advertising deployment to the world
Do you have a yellow ribbon on your car or tied around a tree in your front yard? Maybe you have a “Navy wife, crazy life” bumper sticker or a Blue Star flag in your garden or window. Perhaps you have those stick-figure family decals on your car window or a license plate surround that says what elementary school your kids attend. These outward displays can alert others to key information about your life that you might not want others to have.
6. Hunting for jobs publically
“Does anyone have job leads for Ft. Benning? We’re getting there in June and I’m looking for a job as an accountant since the husband will be deployed and I need to get out of the house. I’ve been working as one in Seattle for the last five years.” These kinds of posts on military spouse job boards and networking groups are all too common. It seems completely innocuous. But there’s so much information contained in just those three sentences that have now been exposed to the world. Instead of drive-bys in groups and job boards (which, honestly, will probably not yield much), spend your time safely looking for your next career move with organizations designed to help you, like Hiring Our Heroes.
7. Stop sharing when you see a violation
Sometimes when a military spouse accidentally (or intentionally) violates OPSEC or PERSEC, the offending post or action is commented on, screenshot, shared… usually by other folks in the military community, and usually while people are decrying something in that post or picture. By commenting on it and sharing it, you’re helping to get more eyes on it… which means that information could fall into the wrong hands.
8. Your digital life isn’t on lockdown
If you haven’t recently checked in on your privacy settings, passwords, and authentication methods for your social media and other digital accounts, make it a priority to get it done. Start with this list of nine easy ways to protect your privacy online.
9. Ignoring guidance
If your spouse’s chain of command offers specific OPSEC and PERSEC suggestions, you should definitely listen to them. It might seem silly or overly cautious, but this information is being shared with you to keep you, your family, your spouse, and his or her coworkers safe.
Worried about what’s happening in the world? Read these:
- 9 Milspouses Can Protect Their Privacy Online
- For the Military Spouse Who Is Overwhelmed Today
- For the Milspouse Experiencing a No-Notice Deployment
- Rapid, Unexpected Deployments: 8 Military Spouses Share What to Do Next