Anonymous asked you: “What exactly are soldiers allowed to discuss with people. I know when they go on missions they’re not allowed to give specifics like where they’re headed or why or I guess not even how many people are going, but if something blows up right in front of them can they just tell you. Or if they see a Blackhawks crash for whatever reason should they just say that. Can they tell you if they’ve shot someone. I just want to know the limits of what they can or can’t discuss.”
[All military personnel have the rules of OPSEC ingrained into them. They, more than anyone else, understand what is at risk if the wrong information is exposed along insensitive channels.
It is operational security that ensures the lives and safety of their brothers in arms, regardless of their branch of service. OPSEC doesn’t suddenly vanish when an individual walks away from military service, either. The entire Valerie Plame incident is a prime example, jeopardizing the lives of countless personnel embedded deep undercover. There’s freedom of information, and then there’s careless disregard for the safety of low profile operations. There’s whistleblowing, and there’s treason.
Distinguishing between sensitive information (i.e. a Blackhawk blowing up implies either the death or injury of involved personnel, whose next of kin have the right to be advised of the incident in a respectful and appropriate manner, as opposed to, oh, I dunno, a grainy video on Facebook, for instance) and critical information (that can be used by enemy factions to deploy countering forces or optimally time attacks for highest injury or impact) is the task of Public Affairs personnel and commanding officers.
Most combat veterans have military records with moderate to extreme amounts of censored information, depending on the level of Top Secret/Classified clearance an individual has. For the average civilian, or even a psychologist who is by field sworn to maintain confidentiality, there is not much that will be visible save for general troop movements or official duty assignments. Time frames are another pertinent feature that play a role in this. The more specific the information about when, and where, troops or forces are mobilizing, the more likely the information risks OPSEC. The Department of Defense’s official media releases are a good place to get an example of this. The scheduled deployment and rotation of troops is publicly announced—their intended location is not. The same with the US Navy’s fleets. Carriers are assigned numbered areas of responsibility which entail large swaths of global regions but never anything specific nor detailed ports of call until sufficient delay has occurred to ensure the safety of the ship or fleet in question.
I find it highly unlikely that any soldier would, without forethought or careful filtering, discuss combat actions, accidents, or the potential death or injury of their fellow servicemembers, especially “something just witnessed.” I would challenge the authenticity of any such individual’s claims to service.
A prime example is a former servicemember I heard of who was SOF during the Vietnam War and self-medicated with alcohol after redeploying home. Despite reckless behavior, he never once served jail sentence for DUI or brawling or public drunkenness. In fact he never spent more than an hour in a holding cell.
All he had to do was say to the law enforcement personnel, “You call General ———— and tell him I’m going to start talking in an hour.”
They could tell you they’d shot someone without risking OPSEC. You want details, now you might have an issue.
The real crux of it, though, is that a member of the Armed Forces who’s looked down the sights of his weapon and squeezed the trigger isn’t going to readily discuss it in detail, and will probably be offended when you ask how many kills they have. It’s an ignorant civilian mistake to ask that question and expect an answer.
The majority of information I post is vetted for OPSEC by the Department of Defense and comes direct from their official media releases. Many of the Soldier Stories that I share have been comparably vetted as they originate with military journalists, combat cameras, etc. The ones that come from average military personnel are no less vetted, and despite the nature of their content, they are more human interest and personal impact than they are military movements and troop strengths, thus they do not risk OPSEC.
There is no cut and dry answer to “what can I be told” but I hope I’ve given an idea of what you won’t be told, and what you shouldn’t expect or demand to be told. And what, in the event that you are told, should perhaps indicate a warning.
To the AD/veteran personnel: If I have been inaccurate or incorrect in anything I’ve stated here, please correct me. This was a “first cup of coffee” info-dump. I’ve made this rebloggable instead of keeping it at an ask because I think this is a very important conversation for everyone to have, and I’d like to encourage discussion. -R]