Lessons learned from Wartime
I was 10 and living overseas on a military base when the Gulf War happened. Suddenly, OpSec (Operational Security) became the name of the game and more important than ever.
All the building signs that could be seen from outside the fence were covered in black garbage bags. I was just a child, and I pictured the enemy on top of nearby buildings with binoculars watching our every move and trying to gather information on the activity on the base.
All of this gave me an early lesson on the importance of information, and the lessons continued as my father and husband both served during the current conflicts.
Lessons I have Learned
1. Social media is not secure
As a military wife, information became more important for me to keep secure. Social media is not secure and if I were to announce that my husband was going on a work trip and where he was going, that piece of information could be found and become another puzzle piece for the enemy. Privacy settings should be checked often to make sure they are the most secure. Avoid advertising where you are by checking in places on Twitter and Facebook, which also advertises where you are not (at home).
2. Photos give a lot away
Digital photos often have date stamps on them, but if you take them with a smartphone, they can also have location stamps on them. A seemingly innocent family photo on your front porch can let people know where you live and how many people are in your family. You can go into your phone’s setting and disable the location stamp function. Then if you do post a photo to social media, make sure your settings are as secure as they can be.
3. Beware of eavesdroppers
Watch where you are when you talk as well. I knew military wives that were comfortable talking to other military wives no matter where they were, but restaurants and malls can be full of people who don’t need to know details that military wives know. Be aware of where you are when you talk with your friends about your preps.
4. View through a stranger’s eyes
What information do you give out on your vehicles and house? Does your bumper sticker show how many children and pets you have and where your child goes to school or plays soccer? What would someone know about your family by looking through your trash? Remove, and possibly shred, items that give out information you would rather people not have. Then decide what kind of information you want to present to a stranger. Large-size men’s boots (visible on the porch or in your vehicle), a home security sign, a Marine Corps flag, and an NRA sticker might convey a more powerful message to people driving by than just having potted flowers.
5. Have a family code word
There should be a family code word that someone would have to use to pick up your child from an activity if you can’t make it so the child knows that you sent that person.
6. Parents need code, too
Adults should also have code words or signals for situations that may arise. This can be a helpful way for parents to talk about a situation without alarming the children.
7. What is your story?
I’ve learned that you do not need to lie to keep information secure, but you don’t have to tell all the facts. Be general instead of specific in answers to questions – but make sure your family is on the same page. When a store clerk asks why you are buying 10 pounds of rice, it doesn’t help if you say, “We’re having a party,” at the same time your daughter says, “We try to only go grocery shopping once a month.” Answers should have at least some truth to them to also make them easier to sell.
8. Children need reasons
You can’t expect to ask your children to not show their friends the basement and then not have them ask you, “Why can’t they know about it?” You will need to take the time to explain to you children why you are asking them to keep some information private.
It’s important to tell them what they can say – “We like to be prepared for emergencies” – and explain to them that it is a family’s private business how much and what food and supplies they have on hand. You can explain to them that just as we close the blinds when we leave the house so people don’t see the TV and want to break in and steal it, we don’t want to advertise all our supplies to people or they may want to come take those for themselves.
9. Artificial intelligence is changing everything
With the advent of ChatGPT and is successor GPT4, society is set to become the wild, wild west as far as the veracity of what we see and hear. Read more about this form of artificial intelligence and how to protect yourself here.
10. Don’t drive yourself crazy
Amidst all this, find someone you can talk to. Make sure your children know whom they can safely talk to. Not talking to anyone about anything about your family could start to drive you crazy. There are like-minded people out there and there is no reason to live your life paranoid about every little detail.
There is a balance to be found between being secretive and being open. We should find ways to encourage our friends and family to be more self-sufficient, but we can be careful about how we do it. What other OpSec lessons would you add to the list?