Story by TSgt Daniel Martinez on 09/23/2019"Out of sight, out of mind" is a phrase which can describe how some people may not know or understand what they don't regularly see or are involved with. Working behind the scenes, protocol is one Air Force specialty some people may not see or recognize, but whose presence resonates throughout the base.
Although most service members on base have never dealt directly with protocol, they are often on the receiving end of their work.
For instance, whenever a general officer or distinguished visitor flies in to meet with Airmen or senior leaders, that visit is all planned and coordinated by the protocol team.
"Protocol is kind of like the face of the wing because DV's don't always see everything that's going on here," said Staff Sgt. Courtney Lansdsen, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing protocol specialist, deployed from Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. "We greet the stars. When they come here, we make sure they get from the plane to where they need to go. If they make a stop in between, we ensure they get to their destination so they can go on to the next mission."
The team facilitates every DV visit, regardless if whether the visiting leader stays for only a single night, or if the plane or aircrew need a place to temporarily stop while in theater.
"We average about 85 DV's a month, which we track and work in some way," said Capt. Rosa-Mae Bacon, 386th AEW protocol chief, deployed from Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. "We have a five-member team and that helps a lot It takes about three to four people to run one large visit like we sometimes have. And we still can't leave the office empty, so someone needs to stay behind in the office."
A DV visit can consist of a single visiting general officer. A visit can also consist of the general and members of their leadership team (such as their senior enlisted advisor, aide-de-camp and members from their respective unit). With that in mind, 85 average monthly DV visits can easily add up to hundreds of visitors the protocol team must work to accommodate.
Before any DV's come to the base, the protocol team will round out the coordination process by establishing a point of contact and determining the purpose of the visit. The team then determines every detail of the potential visit, which includes but is not limited to: how the visitor is arriving, their arrival time, if ground transportation is needed, if DV quarters on base are available, if an office call is requested with the wing commander, if travel to another installation is needed, departure time and more. Once the purpose of the visit and unit locations are determined, protocol coordinates with all involved agencies and the DV's main office to build an itinerary, arrange lodging if needed and fulfill other requests to ensure the visit is smooth and meets the mission objectives.
"There's anywhere from 900 to 1,000 emails in a month's time of tracking all of those people," Bacon said. "Every day, all five of us log into every system and go through to check and make sure all of our DV's have everything they need. When they hit the ground, we want it to be perfect until they leave."
Despite the level of detail that goes into finalizing logistical support and creating a visit itinerary, plans sometimes don't always pan out as expected.
"The most difficult thing about protocol is probably dealing with last minute changes," said 1st Lt. Kassandra Prusko, 386th AEW deputy chief of protocol, deployed from Andrews AFB, Maryland. "We had one visit we were planning for weeks and everything was finally perfect. We sent everything up to the commander, and then the night before the visit, we received a call saying that we needed everything shifted."
The visit was pushed back one hour from its original scheduled time, which could have created a scheduling conflict with all involved units and frustrate the entire visit. One hour may not seem like a lot of time, but units often shift their regular operations to support the DV's. However, protocol takes these challenging moments all in stride.
According to Prusko, the protocol team finds determination by knowing they leave each DV with a positive, lasting impression of the base and its personnel.
"Seeing when everything runs smoothly makes our team feel like all the hard work and effort was worth it," Prusko said. "Seeing the DV and their party leave with a smile on their face and knowing we made their trip a memorable one is a reward in itself."