OPSEC: Common sense made simple

by Marisa Novobilski
21st Theater Sustainment Command Public Affairs

Operations security, or OPSEC, is an often heard term in today’s military environment. Officially, the military defines OPSEC as the process by which a person protects information that can be used by the enemy against them with the end goal of ensuring a safe and secure environment.

Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines train rigorously on the formal five-step OPSEC process, which includes identifying critical information, analyzing threats and vulnerabilities, assessing risks, and applying countermeasures.

However, while OPSEC education and practice is a critical function of all service members in their day-to-day duties, OPSEC behavior is critical, too, for military family members.

During an Aug. 21 unit OPSEC inspection at Air Force Detachment 319 in Kaiserslautern, Jim Kelly, Air Force Technical Applications Center’s OPSEC program manager, took time to meet with military family members to discuss OPSEC and OPSEC activities.

Dressed in a bright purple sport coat and with a non-traditional, face-to-face approach to teaching OPSEC awareness that included purple dragons, purple dragon eggs, “Fear the Purple” koozies, purple notebooks, a purple flying monkey and purple “kiss” candies, Kelly educated family members on practical, easy ways to include OPSEC in their day-to-day activities. Since the AFTAC OPSEC Program is identified by the “Purple Dragon,” a theme with roots dating back to the Vietnam War and the start of modern OPSEC methodologies, Kelly ensures the color purple and purple dragon theme are fully integrated into his training delivery and awareness products.

Kelly said family members play a critical role in OPSEC.

“From a vulnerability standpoint, the adversary or ‘bad guy’ goes for the easy-picking fruit, and the easiest picking fruit out there are the families,” he said. “One, nobody has ever talked to them. Two, nobody has ever briefed them or brought them into the game, but yet, they’re so darn important. If you take them away, we cannot do our jobs. We cannot play the game.”

Family members are the most vulnerable OPSEC targets, particularly since they receive little, if any, OPSEC education and training. Though service members participate in required annual trainings, family members receive little education, if any at all, Kelly said.

“I’ve been with the government for almost 40 years,” he said. “Not once has anyone ever spoken with my wife.”

By providing common sense knowledge along with practical tools and safety tactics, Kelly aims to make OPSEC behavior second nature for military families through his training. This is particularly important for service members and their families overseas, as blending in with locals can be a challenge.

“The next time you’re out, take a look at people’s shoes and feet,” Kelly said. “What kind of shoes are they wearing? What color are their socks? I can almost always spot the Americans in this way.”

Good OPSEC practices stress the importance of awareness of the people around you and your surroundings, Kelly said. In his training, he encourages participants to remain aware and vigilant, especially when traveling. He also stresses the importance of blending in, similar to the way a single blade of grass is indistinguishable in a meadow.

“Leave no footprint,” he said. “And don’t bring attention to yourself.”

Kelly also touched on the importance of using OPSEC online, especially in today’s heavy social media environment. The enemy can easily access open source information on a person, Kelly said, as information on property ownership, real estate transactions, births and marriages, to name a few, is easily accessible in the public domain. Add to that the information one shares on social media, and the adversary has more than enough personal information to exploit and manipulate.

The importance of education and knowledge cannot be overlooked when it comes to OPSEC, Kelly said. This education need not inundate learners with complex military jargon and terminology but should focus on simplicity and practical activities that individuals can do every day to help protect sensitive information about them and their family. The key is to recognize and protect one’s own vulnerabilities.

Kelly summarized OPSEC in just one word: common sense.

“It’s simplicity; it’s common sense,” he said. “The more awareness and information you have, the safer you will be and the better you can protect your family.”

To learn more about OPSEC for families, visit the Department of Defense Education Activity website at www.dodea.edu/offices/safety/opsec.cfm, or take a look at the information available on the Operations Security Professional Association website at www.opsecprofessionals.org.

OPSEC Awareness Training for military professionals, civilians and families is accessible at http://