Protocol makes great impressions
By Airman 1st Class David Dobrydney , 379th Air Expeditionary Wing
/ Published August 31, 2009
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- They are prepared 24 hours a day to perform their mission with the utmost professionalism. However, they don't man checkpoints or turn wrenches on aircraft. Instead, the members of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Protocol Office are available whenever called upon to greet Grand Slam Wing distinguished visitors with style.
The planning and preparation for distinguished visitors absorb most of protocol's time. A DV is an officer ranked brigadier general or higher, of any service, including Coalition partners, or a civilian equivalent. The protocol office coordinates lodging, meals and travel for every DV that stops here whether in transient status or for tours and briefings of the 379 AEW. Their work begins even before the visitor steps off the plane.
"We make sure the plane stops next to the DV lounge so we can expedite their processing through customs," said 1st Lt. Heather Yancy, deployed here from Langley Air Force Base, Va. While regular travelers might wait an hour or more, DVs are able to process customs in just 30 minutes. "We save them a lot of time."
Lieutenant Yancy is known to her co-workers as the "Catcher" since she meets every plane that carries a distinguished visitor. "She's normally the first person the DV sees, so she makes the first impression," said Protocol Chief Capt. Jodi Allen, deployed here from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. "She does an outstanding job." Lieutenant Yancy will see more than 120 visitors arrive each month, all with their own personalities and expectations.
"It's interesting to see the dynamics of the people who come through here, from those requiring very little support to DVs requiring the highest," Lieutenant Yancy, a native of Gothenburg, Neb., said.
To keep up with the high volume of visitors, the protocol members must quickly adapt to a very hectic pace.
Staff Sgt. Jacob Bell, deployed from McConnell AFB, Kan., remembered his first DV visit. "My first day on the job I was asked to help with [U.S. Representative] Nancy Pelosi's visit," the Starlake, N.Y., native said. "It was kind of mind-boggling coming off a rotator, never having worked protocol before, and being told 'Hey, we need your help with Nancy Pelosi.'"
Besides official visits, the protocol office is responsible for organizing luncheons and official ceremonies such as changes of command. Also, if the wing commander is hosting an event, protocol takes care of sending invitations on his behalf, in addition to arranging the venue, setting up flags, etc.
"We arrive an hour in advance of events to make sure everything is in place," said Tech. Sgt. Elroy Williams, protocol NCOIC, also deployed from Langley AFB.
The protocol members describe their job as 'trial by fire.'
"Every situation is different," said Captain Allen, a native of Long Island, N.Y. "We have our basics, but then, inevitably, something goes wrong and we have to adapt," she said.
However, one benefit to being on the protocol staff is meeting a wide range of people and learning from them. "We have relationships with everybody," Lieutenant Yancy said. "I didn't know a thing about flightline operations before I deployed here."
Captain Allen said that without the assistance of organizations on base, they would not be able to complete their mission as effectively.
"Everyone has a hand in a DV visit," she said. "It's definitely a team effort."