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Dying for information

Operational security is an important factor Airmen should consider in everything they do. Whether calling loved ones, skyping with family or chatting with friends on Facebook Airmen should be aware that the enemy maybe listening and watching as well. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Staff Sgt. Eric Summers Jr.)

Operational security is an important factor Airmen should consider in everything they do. Whether calling loved ones, skyping with family or chatting with friends on Facebook Airmen should be aware that the enemy maybe listening and watching as well. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Staff Sgt. Eric Summers Jr.)

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- BOOM! The explosion rings in his ears. It's so loud, it hurts. The smoke is thick and it clouds his vision. Everything is hazy. "Why is the sky in front of me instead of above? Wait - why am I lying on my back?" There's so much confusion, so much chaos. He can see others on the ground and see others running.
"How did I get here? Why is this happening!?"

This scenario is hypothetical, but it could happen. Sadly, there are actions people take, without much thought or worry, that could contribute to the possibility of something like this happening. Yet, what's more important is there are ways to prevent it. There are things you can control.

It all starts with understanding, and taking a moment to read a 'could happen' example may help you understand.

Person 1 - "Don't forget Jake's farewell dinner next week. Did you invite everyone?"

Person 2 - "I'm all over it! I emailed everyone from work and also posted it to all the social media groups he's a part of so we don't miss anyone."

Person 1 - "Sweet, does it seem like some of his friends from the groups are going?"

Person 2 - "A few people RSVP'd so it seems like there will be a pretty good turnout. Let's reserve extra seats since I posted the day, time and place for anyone who wants to show up last minute. There's like 100 people in just one of those groups."

Person 1 - "Perfect! You should probably post directions to the place from base since the roads can be confusing. That'll make things easier. I know a pretty simple shortcut everyone can take."

Social media sites can be a wonderful thing. They can bridge the miles that separate family and friends. People can create invites for events and post information quickly. Another plus is these sites are interactive. However, the easily accessible, up-to-date information can also be used in a bad way. Many terrorists collect intelligence from open source websites and documents. Does that mean people should stop using social media? No; it means people should take precautions.

In the example conversation there was a going-away dinner off-base, and some co-workers wanted to advertise the farewell event to as many friends as possible. Although it may seem innocent and straightforward, the information put out via social media was too detailed, too accessible by people who didn't need to know and too easily shared with others. It made everyone going to that event an easy target.

Wherever you are stationed, you need to know the climate and force protection concerns of that particular area. Things that are not a big deal at one base might be a huge deal at another. Is there any American discontent where you are stationed? Are there protests in your area? If so, it's especially important not to post specific times of events or base closures. Extremist organizations prefer large amounts of people versus one or two if they are planning an act of terrorism. They want impact.

Putting out specifics may be convenient for people who wish to attend, but convenience is not always the safest route. Do the right thing and convey the information without using public forums. Make no mistake, social media posts are public even in a closed group or 'private' account.

I remember how easy it was to find information about a friend returning from a deployment. By going to different social media accounts I was able to piece together not only when my friend was coming back, but also how many people were with him, what mode of transport they were using, when they left, and where they were stopping along the way. Can that information help an enemy? Would it be all over the news if a military member's homecoming event was bombed? That answer is yes.

People need to consider these things, but should not be too scared to 'live' their lives. We need to take a moment to think about the power of information. We must consider how much convenience weighs next to safety. And we have to think about how our actions can affect other people.

The fictitious scenario opened with a person lying on his back asking how and why. It turns out that person was Jake, the guest of honor. The answers he sought at the end are simplified to the following statement: Information wasn't protected properly so bad guys used the details to plan an attack.

The oversight, although not intentional, were links in a chain of actions that lead to confusion being the last thing Jake ever felt, and the aftermath of an attack the last thing he ever saw. He never makes it home; take the necessary precautions so you will.