OpSec lessons from a military wife (and brat)

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opsec It only takes putting a few pieces of a puzzle together to start seeing a clear picture when it comes to OpSec and keeping quiet about certain bits of information.

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 you 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 do 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. 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?

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Sarah Anne Carter is a writer and reader. She grew up all over the world as a military brat and is now putting down roots with her family in Ohio. Visit her at SarahAnneCarter.com

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7 thoughts on “OpSec lessons from a military wife (and brat)”

  1. Agree with & practice most of your suggestions, however, don’t mind a military flag but the NRA sticker not fond of. Just says to me, ‘hey, look I got guns, come take ’em or better come armed to take whatever.’

    Just in my humble opinion.

  2. WE Too had key code words at some bases that we was at after 45 years when I think of all the untruths that I said off base and to be trained at an very early aged to shot to kill anyone who tried to grab us kids simple because I was the oldest to have a weapon that look like a toy but it was real in plan site as a western cowboy pistol My father made sure of it but mother kept taking it at some houses at we visited With her saying she did not me to shot anyone there…

  3. I agree with you,Kort.
    Maybe I’m a bit on the paranoid side, but I don’t even have an NRA subscription because that would make people think I have guns, and when the actual SHTF happens, the government will use that subscription list, (as well as other prepping or protection subscriptions) to find those they want to target.
    Yeah, I know it IS paranoid!

    1. As a good friend once told me, “if you’re not on a list (or more) then you’re doing something wrong.” I had to think about it at first, but then I totally agreed with it. And postings like this aren’t truly ‘anonymous’ or ‘safe’ to those that have the power to dig deeper. =-{

  4. The Stick figure families on your vehicle. Please remove. So you have 2 kids and 1 dog. TMI
    Also we had several breakins. People working out talking about going out of town etc. The criminals were working out too listening in
    Just FYI. Good article.

  5. I happen to agree with the points you list. I have found it easiest to keep quiet about things by remembering that being grey and blending in will save life.

  6. We have “Our Family” decal in the car window – it’s an assortment of weapons. We’ve had several comments on it – all positive. We don’t have children at home, so “Op Sec” is easier for us Traveling: if you talk about it on social media, use words like “we’re planning a trip” or “one of these days we’re going to …” Don’t post photos or stories of your trip until you get home. Have a trusted neighbor watch your house, park their car in your driveway once in a while. Timers for your lights work, but set them for the times you are usually “up and around”. If you go to bed at 10pm, set the lights to go off within a few minutes of that time. Timed lights that are on from dark to dawn are a giveaway.

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