We all have certain memories and moments that we will never forget. I remember where I was on 9/11. I remember my wedding day and the days my children were born.
I also remember the day my husband was put on a hit list.
It was an ordinary Saturday in March. We had just pulled into the driveway of my grandmother’s house for a quick day trip. He got a call from his commander. A few words were exchanged and we went about our day. Only for a moment did I think it odd for him to get a call on a Saturday, but due to the nature of his job, I easily dismissed it. Fast-forward a few hours to when we were ready to make the drive home. I hadn’t looked at my phone all day so before we lost 4G, I mindlessly scrolled through my email and social media accounts.
I used to use Twitter for quick news bites. I never tweeted anything. I don’t even know how to tweet, honestly. I simply followed a bunch of news, sports, and entertainment sites, and I’d scroll through my Twitter feed on my lunch break or when really bored. The only thing associated with my account was my name.
On that particular day, less than 4 hours after my husband received that phone call, a group who claimed to be associated with ISIS “followed” my account. I still get goose bumps thinking about it as I type this. I showed my husband who told me to immediately cancel my account.
That’s when he told me about the list.
I had three hours to digest the information before we’d be home with the knowledge that an FBI agent would be in contact with us ASAP. I honestly didn’t really know what to think at first. What does this mean? Are we in imminent danger? What about our children?
Then local and national news outlets got a hold of the list.
My phone must have rung over 100 times in the few days following that Saturday.
Without as much as a hello say, reporters would say, “How do you feel about your husband being on the hit list??
Naturally, we were told to say nothing, but on the inside I was screaming, “HOW WOULD YOU FEEL?!?!”
Unfortunately, my husband’s face was not blurred out very well so many of our closer friends/relatives knew without us saying. Locally, three men were on the list including my husband’s commander and our next-door neighbor at the time. Our community fell into a bit of a hysteria. Many feared for their lives, afraid to even open their doors.
We had friends who didn’t want to be seen with us. I received cryptic messages from people wanting to offer support … but also not want to be publicly associated with me. Some packed up and moved to on base housing hoping for more peace of mind. We had to have some uncomfortable conversations with schools and daycares about our children. There was an extra police patrol in our neighborhood.
Truth be told, we kept our gun loaded for many weeks.
I remember going to a squadron function shortly after the list was released, and one of the only people who spoke to me was our commander’s wife. It was like we were suddenly in this strange club that nobody wanted to be a part of — a club we hadn’t asked to join in the first place. All of it was very surreal.
After some time, the heat of it died down. The person associated with the Islamic State Hacking Division who wrote the list was killed a few months later, and many who reproduced the list with the same intent are currently in prison and on trial or awaiting trial.
As scary as the whole situation was, it started a lot of conversations — both where we lived and around the world — about our service members’ safety as well as the safety of their families.
Operational Security (OPSEC)
At the time that the list came out, my husband had already been in the Air Force for over 10 years and deployed four times. I was familiar with OPSEC. We got briefed on it before every deployment. But did I always follow it? I don’t know.
Do I now? You better believe it!
Things to consider: Are you giving out too much information about your spouse’s job/deployment on social media? Are you casually mentioning where your spouse is deployed to the stranger at Target? While seemingly innocent, being aware of the information you give about your spouse and his/her job can be capitalized on by our enemies. By definition, terrorism uses unlawful violence and intimidation for political gain. You can see the official description of OPSEC from the Department of Defense (DoD) here, or you can print this list from The Military Wife and Mom here.
Social Media Security
Lets face it. Social media is here to stay. We all love Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, you name it! But what do your security settings look like? How private are your accounts? Who can see what you post? Are you searchable on Google? Do you really need to be Facebook friends with all 750 people? If you haven’t done a thorough security check on ALL of your social media platforms, I urge you to do it now! Decrease your “social media footprint.”
My security settings on Facebook have always been pretty high, but Facebook profile pictures are always public. I didn’t know this. The picture used for my husband on the hit list was NEVER posted on his account. It was a very old profile picture on my account. Moving forward, consider what you post, where you post, and why you post. Consider OPSEC. Consider your family. Consider your own privacy. Also keep in mind that it doesn’t take savvy tech skills to get information on people, just a computer and the Internet.
*Side note: The picture at the top of this post was my temporary Facebook profile picture after the list because I still had to keep a sense of humor about the situation.
Yes, I’m a gun owning Texan. Not everyone is. Not everyone has to be.
But are your home, children, and possessions protected? Do you have a home security system? A guard dog? Even if you live on base, don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re untouchable. We’ve all seen the horrors that can occur on our military installations. Something to really consider is: If you were all alone in your home and something/someone attacked you, could you defend yourself? Following the hit list, there was an exponential increase in the number of military spouses who took Concealed Handgun License (CHL) classes and/or Self Defense Classes. The reality of vulnerability can really change your perspective.
The Reality of our World Today
My intent is not to make anyone feel paranoid. I truly believe that there is a fine line between safety/security and paranoia. I only want to prove the point that we simply do not live in a safe world. The reality is that as Americans, we are not well liked by some other people’s groups. There is a real enemy and threat to us and our country, and this is why our service members bravely and voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way to serve and protect this nation. Please don’t live in a bubble and think that all of our troubles are overseas or “out of sight, out of mind.”
Fear is not real. Fear is created in our minds and is a choice we make. Danger, on the other hand, is very real.
My final point: Love your family; enjoy your life; be thankful for what you have been given; but, also, be aware that what you say and do can affect the safety and security of those you love.