If you have ever joined a military spouse group online you have probably seen someone’s post get called out for breaking “OPSEC rules.” It can be frustrating and embarrassing, especially if you didn’t realize you were doing anything wrong!
But what exactly is OPSEC? What are the rules, and how can you break them? We are here to clear up all your questions about OPSEC rules and the related topic of PERSEC.
OPSEC stands for Operational Security. Simply put, that means the safety of troops when they are involved in any type of training or mission. The term was developed after the Vietnam War, when the US figured out that many Vietnamese locals in restaurants, barber shops, and bars understood more English than they let on. When American troops walked around town discussing upcoming dates, or missions, the Vietnamese were listening and reporting to the enemy. Consequently, troops had to undergo OPSEC rules training to learn what information needed to be kept private.
Today’s OPSEC rules are in place to keep our troops safe. There probably aren’t many “enemies” listening to your conversations at the local Starbucks, but there is always the possibility that terrorists are following you or listening to your online conversations. Since you never know who might see an online comment or hack into your computer or phone, it’s best not to put certain details in writing. Here is OPSEC rules information that should be kept private. That means DON’T write these things online, even in “private” pages or groups.
OPSEC rules for military spouses
Dates of troop movements or missions: Don’t post how many days until a unit leaves or returns. Don’t ask for prayers because your loved one is “going outside the wire today.” Don’t post pictures of your deployment countdown tracker or announce that there are only 3 more days before you’ll be back in his arms. Units have delayed Homecomings when this kind of information is posted, because it puts the entire unit in danger.
Deployment locations: You don’t want to announce to the enemy exactly where your service member’s unit is stationed, so be careful about posting details or mailing address, including photos of care packages, even in conversations with family members. Naming the country is ok, but specific bases or towns are not.
How troops will transport: It may sound harmless to say you are dropping your SO off at the ship or picking them up from an airport, but these are public locations that could become targets if many troops are gathered there. Don’t share details about airlines or how troops are leaving a base during deployment.
Troop sizes and equipment: This is the type of information that reconnaissance units always want to know about their enemy. Never say your service member is going with a group of x number soldiers or what type of aircraft/tanks/weapons they have available.
Metadata on photos from your service member: Photos taken on a smart phone often have the location and additional information embedded in the file. Sharing photos they have sent you could be the same as “checking in” at a deployment location. This gives away the location and makes them a target. Ask before you post anything they have sent you.
Information from the unit: Just because something is shared in a unit briefing or spouse meeting doesn’t mean it is information for the public. Don’t repost or share details that were given verbally. If an article or photo appears on an official unit page, that means it has been approved by the Public Affairs Office and is safe to share. They typically announce troop deployments after the fact and using broad terms or general locations. Be careful with any info discussed on unofficial groups or pages.
You can find support and encouragement for many challenges of military life in my book, Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses. It’s a great place to find answers to your questions and help you feel like you are not alone on this military journey! Buy “Open When” on Amazon, from the publisher, or request an autographed copy here.
PERSEC Rules for military spouses
PERSEC means Personal Security. There are fewer official “rules” about PERSEC because it comes down to common sense for your personal safety. Some communities are more anti-military so you would not want to announce your status as a military dependent. You also don’t want to put yourself at risk by announcing when you will be home alone or when your house is empty during deployment. Here are some PERSEC rules for military spouses.
Be careful with public photos: Does your profile picture show your service member in uniform? If so, close inspection will reveal their name, rank, unit, and possibly some of the medals they have earned. Even when your profile is private, profile pics are public, so think twice about who you want to see them.
Don’t share personal information: When posting photos of your house or car, make sure the address, street sign, and license plate aren’t showing. Don’t post images of t-shirts or awards that share the name of your child’s school.
Don’t share your schedule: If you always go for a morning run, don’t post the route from the running app. If you attend a weekly activity or class, don’t share the time or details. Avoid “checking in” at locations you visit often. All this makes you a predictable target.
Don’t share details about the unit: When you publicly display the unit symbol or ask for fellow spouses from the specific unit, you make yourself a target to be followed throughout the deployment.
Don’t announce you’re a military loved one: Whether it is a “Proud Navy Girlfriend” bumper sticker on your car, a military T-shirt you wear to the gym, or a yellow ribbon you hang on your mailbox, these all publicly declare your military affiliation and can make you a target.
These rules may sound frustrating or overwhelming, but they are all designed for your safety and the safety of your service member. In general, think twice about what you post online. People who actually need to know details like family members and close friends can be informed with a phone call rather than a public message. If you aren’t sure whether you are allowed to share something, then don’t!