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Protocol: Planning the Visitors – Visiting the Plans

Protocol

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kelly Mason, 18th Wing protocol specialist, aligns chocolates on a plate before a meeting between 18th Wing leadership and members of the Japan-American Air Force Goodwill Association March 13, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Protocol is the expert where customs and courtesies are necessary and help to make sure every event follows proper AFI guidance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin)

Protocol

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kelly Mason, 18th Wing protocol specialist, aligns a water glass before a meeting between 18th Wing leadership and members of the Japan-American Air Force Goodwill Association March 13, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Protocol is the expert of whether customs and courtesies are necessary and help to ensure every event follows proper AFI guidance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin)

Protocol

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kelly Mason, 18th Wing protocol specialist, briefs a group of superintendents during a 18th Wing Squadron Superintendents Course March 13, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Protocol is involved in anything from retirement and graduation ceremonies to briefing leadership on etiquette procedures – if it’s an event where customs and courtesies are necessary, protocol assists. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin)

Protocol

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zach Steinkamp and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kelly Mason, 18th Wing protocol specialists, place name placeholders on a table before a dinner for18th Wing leadership and members of the Japan-American Air Force Goodwill Association March 13, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. When ceremonies happen on base, it’s protocol who assists in making sure all hotel, travel and food arrangements are met. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin)

Protocol

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zach Steinkamp and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kelly Mason, 18th Wing protocol specialists, place name tags on a table before a dinner for 18th Wing leadership and members of the Japan-American Air Force Goodwill Association March 13, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. When ceremonies happen on base, it’s protocol who assists in making sure all hotel, travel and food arrangements are met. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- When distinguished visitors come to a base, every minute of their day is meticulously planned. Hotels, travel, formal dinners, seating locations – the entire process is much like a large puzzle. This is just a typical day at Kadena Air Base for the resident “puzzlemasters” behind the scenes – the members of protocol.

When putting together an event, every last detail must be accurate and drawn up. This level of detail and coordination can take weeks – or months – in advance to organize and can change at a moment’s notice. Even something minute like access to the base can be a lengthy process.

“We take care of lodging, transportation, and entry access lists,” said Staff Sgt. Kelly Mason, 18th Wing protocol specialist. “We make sure that we’re getting the distinguished visitors on base.” 

Distinguished visits are not the only job protocol covers. They handle everything from retirement ceremonies, to reviewing scripts for graduations and even requests for ceremonial flags. 

With all the different types of events they have a part in, Mason explains how managing a busy schedule is a crucial component to mission success for the unit.

“You have to know how to get your stuff done during the day,” Mason said. “It is challenging because you’re not always in the office – we’re out setting up flags for a change of command or reviewing a script for Airman Leadership School graduation or on the bus helping direct the driver during a DV visit – it comes down to time management to complete the mission.”

Protocol is not a stand-alone Air Force Specialty Code, meaning a prospective Airman can’t be assigned the job coming out of basic training. Similar to submitting for an award or applying for a special duty position, Airmen must submit an application to be in protocol.

Before an Airman can be added to the team in protocol, there must be a posting of an open position via the base channel of communication. Local leadership within the squadrons will nominate Airmen to fill the role and submit a package. Finally, an interview is held to determine if the Airman is a good fit for the protocol team.

While Airmen may not see the big picture at the tactical level in their career fields, the specialists in protocol are able to see a broader scope by helping manage events. As Staff Sgt. Zach Steinkamp explains, being in protocol gives him a different view of Kadena’s mission than his normal job as a member of the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron.

“You can see the Air Force mission, the Department of Defense mission,” Steinkamp said. “It’s very rewarding to see that high-level perspective you’d never see at your home unit.”

Whether it’s making sure that the customs and courtesies are followed to Air Force Instruction standards, correct etiquette is used when hosting our allies and partners, or just confirming the wording is correct in a speech at an ALS graduation, the specialists in protocol are able to help.

“Anything that goes on base ceremony-wise, we can assist with,” Steinkamp said. “We have the guidance, we are the specialists, and we will make sure that things go according to plan to have a successful event.”