In hallways and offices around the globe, American military facilities have signs and posters hung about insisting that the men and women defending our nation maintain OPSEC, or operational security. Using imagery reminiscent of 1950s propaganda, these wall decorations plead with our troops to consider any open channel a direct line to our nation’s enemies – reminding us each that a simple mistake could cost the lives of our brothers and sisters in harm’s way.
For many of us that spent the best years of our lives in uniform, these reminders eventually draw less and less of our attention, until ultimately we grow numb to them and rely on our developed sense of procedure and regulation. When you’re not tasked with representing the military to the public, it can be easy to neglect the anxiety OPSEC demands – we simply leave our work at work, and let the rules we abide by serve as the filter that keeps our secrets a secret.
For those in the public affairs field, however, OPSEC is far more important than the posters on the wall. When serving as the liaison between American forces fighting the good fight and the perceptions of the world beyond, maintaining the operational security of the men and women you represent becomes the golden rule, to be held high above all others. For soldiers like Ricardo Branch, a public affairs Non-Commissioned Officer at one point assigned to a special operations unit that played a direct role in bringing the world’s most dangerous terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, to justice, operational security was a way of life.
As was the case one fateful day in February of 2014, when Staff Sergeant Branch was tasked with reviewing a proposed article set for publication in Boeing’s internal news service. The article included a sentence that suggested Branch’s unit, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), had been involved in delivering SEAL Team Six to the site of the raid – a statement Branch believed had not been vetted or confirmed by the Department of Defense.