I can still remember the phone call.
I was sitting on my porch doing homework when my department head called me. She told me we needed to talk and automatically my mind went to there being a problem with my separation paperwork. I had under two months until I was no longer a Sailor and was convinced that something must have gone wrong with my paperwork. Why else would she be calling me after my work hours?
Looking back I wish I had been right. That the call did have to do with my separation and that I was going to be stuck in uniform for a few more weeks until things could be ironed out. That would have been so much easier to deal with than the news that my life and my sense of safety was about to change forever.
I’m not sure how many of you remember the news coming out in March of 2015, but back then headlines were flashing all over the place “ISIS Releases Hit List of 100 American Military Personnel.” Commands all over the world were briefing their service members on the importance of personal security and what to do if you felt something off about your surroundings, your social media, or any of your personal identifying information.
We were told about members on our flight line being on the list and having their families relocated. We were given information on how to scrub our social media to make it as private as possible. And we were told that if anything happened to anyone we knew, NCIS would be happy to talk to us about the incidents. But all of that seemed so abstract until I got the call.
“I need you to stay calm, but we need to talk to you about your safety. NCIS was here today because your name has come up on one of the lists.”
My heart stopped. Me? Why me? I was not some super secret squirrel. I was not working on nuclear warheads or in a position to create military movement plans. I was an administrative assistant! Sure, I have a security clearance that is probably a bit high for what I worked on, but that wasn’t my fault! I never even worked on a classified document while I was in the Navy! So what on Earth did ISIS want with me!?
All of the sudden every aspect of my life was under a microscope. Was it because I wrote for a military magazine? I had permission from my command to publish under my own name and they knew I was writing. Wouldn’t they have advised I not write if they thought it would be a conflict of interest or put me in danger? Maybe it had nothing to do with my writing.
Maybe I had posted a picture somewhere of myself in uniform and the bad guys saw my name tape and that was all they needed. But did I really post that many uniform pictures?
I looked like a dork in my blue camo so why would I want that out there for everyone to see? Or could it be one of the classes I went to while I was in the Navy. Maybe the roster for my TAPS GPS class had been released and we were all on it. Or maybe, just maybe, it was completely random and I would never know how I got on a watch list.
It didn’t really matter how I ended up on the list; I was on it. As a result I now have my very own NCIS agent on speed dial. In fact, I even have a contact for the FBI because they were kind enough to scare the crap out of my old roommates by showing up there and letting them know that I was on a list not only under my married name, but also my maiden name and my address from almost 10 years ago was listed as well. Isn’t that great news!? So not only was my security now being shaken, people I had lived with before I ever swore into the military were being shaken up as well.
I remember turning to my husband after I got the news and repeating what was going on as though it were happening to someone else. He was far calmer than me and his response to the issue was not exactly the same as mine. He looked at me and said, “I guess you’re ready to go get a gun now? And a dog too?” I knew he was trying to lighten the mood, but he wasn’t wrong. Being armed when I was out alone would not be a bad idea.
So I learned how to shoot a little better, I figured out what type of handgun I was most comfortable with, and I found an excuse to buy two new purses just because they had hidden holsters in them. I became far more aware of what was going on around me at all times and I started avoiding any large, crowded events. Especially ones that would have a heavy military presence.
I wasn’t hiding, but I wasn’t living either. It took a conversation with a family friend and former SEAL, as well as a long talk with my very own Gibbs to realize that I could not hide out just because something bad happened. I would be doing exactly what bad guys wanted. I would be giving up who I was because I was scared and that was not acceptable to me.
I love to travel. I love to dance barefoot at outdoor concerts. I love to go to events that support those that serve our country. I just love life and it was not right to let the potential threat hanging over my head make me forget how to live. Instead I now take precautions, but I still live life the best that I can. I mean, come on, I could be in a deadly car crash on the way to the movies just as easily as I could be harmed by these bad guys. And statistics have shown that as of now, not one person on any of those lists has had a personal attack happen so it’s far more likely that I will be done in by old age so I might as well live it up, right?