OPSEC: “Hey Mom & Dad – Guess Where I Was!”

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Army Major Adrian Sullivan pulled three combat tours in Iraq and Kuwait from 2003 to 2008 as a logistician. She served as an assistant battalion operations officer (S3), a company executive officer (XO), a battalion logistics officer (S4) and a combat developer from the Combined Arms Support Command for the 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB) and the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC).

She spoke of some of the challenges she faced in a March 2012 interview with the Combat Studies Insitute at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. But talk about operational security: after her initial tour to Kuwait, her biggest secret was not letting her family know where she was on her second and third deployments. Here she spills the beans:

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I had seen people in the Army for 20 years and all they did was train. I was in an Army where we got the lessons learned from the training and now we were actually doing something. We were executing the training. I thought it was fine. I thought I was in this new culture.
It was amazing I could do something like this and I was part of it and I grew up with it. I thought it was amazing. It wasn’t a complaint to me. It was fine.
Of course my family — it was harder on them. My second deployment was to Iraq and I told them I was going to Kuwait for the whole year. I just said I was in Kuwait the whole time…I figured if something happened to me, it would happen to me. It didn’t matter where I was. It would have just happened and who cares where I was.
I’d rather they keep peace of mind for the year and think I was in Kuwait at the swimming pool than up in Iraq.

[Couldn’t they tell where you were when they sent you packages?]

Nope, because our address is always APO and it doesn’t say what camp you’re on. It doesn’t have to list what camp or country so I just sent them a new address and just said, “I was in Kuwait.”
I found a lot of people thought it was cool to say you were in Iraq or it was cool to say you went out on a convoy and I think that’s when a lot of the operational security issues started.
People would call home and say, “I’m going to do this,” or, “I just did this.” To me, of course, you’re not supposed to do any of that and I didn’t find it was a good situation to put any of my family in. They didn’t need to be stressing while all they were able to see were news reports of things I typically wasn’t involved in.
I wasn’t on the front lines. I wasn’t in a combat situation. I wasn’t firing my weapon. If that’s all they saw and that was the country of Iraq, then that’s all they would have thought I was doing and I wasn’t…
All my friends think I’m a combat killer. They think I have killed people. I use my weapon. I know all about weapons. That’s what I do. If they knew I sat at a computer desk and typed PowerPoint slides they’d probably just think I was kidding.

[Obviously, your family must know now that you were in Iraq.]

[Laughs] If they read this! I never disclosed that I was actually in Iraq.