By Sunshine Burgess
“Loose Lips Might Sink Ships” was a phrase coined in 1942 during WWII to remind people to not share information that the enemy may find useful. Here we are 74 years later and the term you will hear is OPSEC (Operational Security). If you are new to military life, it may just seem like one more acronym or piece of jargon that you have no clue what it means, but basically, it means to frankly, keep your mouth shut.
A good rule of thumb is that if you aren’t sure if you should be sharing the information, if you even consider asking the question, then play it safe and don’t share. This is so much more critical in the fast-growing world of social media. We have entered into a world where people want to tell everyone where they live and what they are doing. People “check in” at every restaurant and event. If they are having a bad day, they instantly want to make a post about it and reach out to their vast network of online friends. The problem is that what you are posting in itself alone may not be the problem, but when someone who is looking for information puts together several of your posts, then they now have the full picture. Our social media accounts can often serve as pieces of a puzzle and if someone is good at puzzles (people up to no good usually are), they can create an entire picture of your life and this can have negative effects.
I will date myself a little here. I grew up pre-internet. Pre-social media. We didn’t have computers or cell phones. Yes, I am a part of the generation that got our first email addresses in college and we carried quarters for pay phones. When our family would go on vacation, you wouldn’t announce that in the local newspaper! My parents would let a neighbor know to keep an eye on the house and maybe a family member would stop by to feed pets. We didn’t announce how long we would be gone or where the spare key was hidden. Why would we? That would just be an invitation to the criminals to drop by and clean out our home while we were gone. If they knew our plans they could even take their time in doing so. When I was in college and driving 3 hours back home alone, my dad always told me to never tell anyone when I stopped that I was on the road alone. He was always concerned someone would follow me on my trip. Remember cell phones weren’t prevalent, so we couldn’t just chat with someone while we made our trip to somehow feel less alone. We grew up in the era of fearing “the man in the white van looking for his puppy.” It was a much more cautious time and keeping information secret was just a way of life.
That was then and this now. Sharing of information has become more common. No one wants to keep a secret or tell a close friend, they want to announce it to everyone at the same time and put it all out on social media for the world. Well, loose lips don’t just sink ships, they also crash planes, steal identity and unfortunately, lead to abductions and deaths. I don’t personally think there are necessarily any more “bad guys” than there have always been, but the mass amount of public sharing has just made their crimes a little easier. As a military spouse, you now have to think twice about what you share and that is not only to protect you but also every other military family that your over-sharing could affect.
If your spouse is deployed, the world doesn’t need to know where they are and if you can avoid saying they are deployed at all on social media, then that is the best route. Not only should you not share the where, but please don’t share the when! As a new spouse, this could be your first deployment and we know that you are excited about your loved ones return, but things like countdowns and dates can not only delay your spouse’s return, but if they are a part of a larger group, it can delay the return of the entire unit/squadron. When that happens, you have not only created disappointment for yourself, but you now have maybe a few hundred other families that will not see their loved one for a few extra weeks. As I like to say, you don’t want to be “that spouse”.
Another major OPSEC thing is pictures. Don’t have a picture of your service member either with or without you in uniform as a public photo, like a Facebook profile picture. This includes those wonderful pictures in front of planes (yes, this includes your family holiday photo). You have no idea how much information a person can get from these. Don’t fall victim to the “in honor of those who serve, change your profile picture to one of you in uniform for Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day or 4th of July.” Make sure that people can’t tag you in those pictures and posts honoring those who serve and if they do, remove the tag. Our families and friends are just as proud of your service member and what they do as you are, and they mean well, but make sure that all the proud parents understand how much danger they can put their loved ones in my over-sharing and police their posts as much as you police your own. Periodically check what others who aren’t your friends can see on your page. Since Facebook can be one of the major culprits, there is a little lock in the top right corner. Under that, it says “who can see my stuff” and under that you can check “what do other people see on my timeline”. Make sure that what they are seeing is very little! Unfortunately, without totally removing ourselves from the digital world, there is always a risk, but you can lessen that risk.
We are all so proud of our service members. I understand the desire to want to shout from the rooftops that we are married to actual American heroes who do really cool jobs. Unfortunately, we don’t need to overly discuss what they do and if anyone is asking way too many questions about their job and you feel uncomfortable about it, zip those lips. We know they are awesome and one day, when they aren’t currently serving, you can reminisce and let everyone know what an amazing career they had and share stories of all the wonderful things they were able to do while serving their country, but as long as they are wearing the uniform, their safety, our safety and the safety of all those who serve have to be our primary concern. As they say in the Air Force…Service Before Self.
If you have questions, the New Military Spouse Support Program is here to help. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.