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Mastery behind the scenes; protocol enables mission success

  • Published
  • By Capt. Monique Roux
  • 332d Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

From orchestrating historically significant events, to managing the fine details of military leader and distinguished visitor meetings, to ensuring partner nation customs and courtesies are observed, the 332d Air Expeditionary Wing protocol office is instrumental to mission success.

This two-person team operates behind the scenes making a myriad of significant engagements seem flawless.

“Protocol’s roles and responsibilities directly support the wing’s priorities to ‘cultivate and strengthen relationships’ and ‘develop and care for our war fighters’,” said Maj. Lisa Wong, 332d AEW chief of staff. “Furthermore, some of the visits the protocol team coordinates allow for strategic engagements and key decisions that enable another wing priority -- ‘advance Agile Combat Employment capabilities’.”

As an office that operates mainly out of sight, there are many misconceptions about protocol’s purpose and function.

“People tell me they thought protocol and public affairs are one and the same,” said Senior Airman Isaac Perez, 332d AEW protocol specialist. “In reality, the two offices work together on some projects, but they are two very different jobs.”

People also believe that the protocol office controls flight planning, country access and itineraries for DV engagements.

“We assist in many aspects of these important visits, but we don’t manage the flights or country access and we don’t make decisions for the itineraries,” said 1st Lieutenant Brittany Flanagan, 332d AEW protocol officer in charge. “We route information between our visitors’ administrative offices and units for coordination, but nothing comes from our office without prior input from 332 AEW leadership.”

Success for the protocol office is highly dependent on a team approach.

“They are busy and have to remain flexible when situations change,” said Wong. “For example, during the month of May protocol was hosting DVs for 25 out of 31 days, and for six of those days protocol was supporting multiple DV parties at once. It takes the team effort from all functional areas that are supporting a visit or event to make it a success.”

As an example of the team approach leading to success, the 332d AEW protocol office recently worked countless details for a visit from Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnn S. Bass earlier this year.

“So many people from across the wing put in a great deal of effort to make sure the CMSAF visit was a success, and it was very rewarding,” said Flanagan. “The static in the air and excitement for the opportunity to meet one of our Air Force’s top leaders was really nice to see.”

Another little-known fact is that protocol is not a standard career field, it is an additional duty.

“Lieutenant Flanagan is a logistics readiness officer by trade and Perez is in cyber communications,” said Wong. “Neither had the opportunity to attend the protocol preparation course before deploying with the 332d so they had to hit the ground running and learn by on-the-job training.”

Despite not being able to attend the protocol course, both Flanagan and Perez have provided top-tier protocol support to the 332 AEW and say that it has been a very rewarding experience.

“Protocol is a very demanding job with a lot of moving parts, but if you get the opportunity to do protocol, I highly encourage it,” said Perez. “It’s a great way to see how the Air Force works.” Flanagan agrees.

“Protocol can be stressful and has been very busy, but I have learned a lot. I also got the chance to meet all sorts of people from around the wing and around the world.”