Behind the scenes with Fairchild Protocol
Staff Sgt. Christine Tooth, 92nd Air Refueling Wing protocol specialist, arranges water goblets during a recent visit by Gen. Raymond Johns, Jr., Air Mobility Command commander, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., May 20, 2012. If something needs to be done, whether it’s picking up trash, pitching luggage or washing vehicles and someone else hasn't done their job, then the wing’s protocol office is there getting the mission done. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Zeski)
by Scott King
92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
5/30/2012 - FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- There's proper protocol behind any big ceremony or event and that holds nowhere more true than at Fairchild Air Force Base.
This is where the 92nd Air Refueling Wing protocol office has a long-standing reputation of being one of the best at handling all the details preceding, during and after these occasions.
"There are few jobs in the Air Force more challenging and demanding on a day-to-day basis than protocol," said Bo Smith-Tallan, 92nd Air Refueling Wing protocol chief. "This job is not for the faint-hearted or thin-skinned individual, nor is it a position for the lone wolves who believe they can do it all themselves. We rely on base-wide cooperation and teamwork to provide our extremely important services."
Their office plans, manages and executes the protocol program for the 92nd ARW and support the 141st ARW and the 336th Training Group. They advise the base and the civilian community on the policies of the wing commander and establish policies and procedures pertaining to protocol programs to include military ceremonies, conferences, official meetings and briefings, official and social functions, high-level foreign and domestic visits, special visits and symposiums.
The protocol office also needs to be "in the know" when it comes to military customs and courtesies.
They personally meet and accompany distinguished visitors in a manner that reflects favorably on base leadership. Some of the things they must have knowledge on are the "order of precedence" amongst elected officials, U.S. and foreign officials, military and civilians. They must know flight plan VIP codes, order of flags, rank and dress equivalents between the military services including foreign military. Along with all this comes a host of administrative details they accomplish.
There are several attributes and skills that make the protocol staff effective.
According to Smith-Tallan, her staff has excellent organizational skills. They must remember the minutest details whether there are 10 or 1,000 details and must plan for every contingency. They also possess humility; they can't say it's not my job. If something needs to be done, whether it's picking up trash, pitching luggage or washing vehicles and someone else hasn't done their job, then they are all on it. They are also sensitive to the needs of others. It goes hand-in-hand with cooperation. Taking care of the little things adds a 'touch of class' that can make a good visit into a great one. They are flexible and think on their feet adapting quickly to rapid-fire changes in a high stress, high visibility environment. Her staff has excellent communication skills. It is vital they effectively communicate up, down and across the chain - if they don't, things can go wrong and fast.
Smith-Tallan's staff understands the importance and challenges of what they do.
"Protocol is definitely a job that requires teamwork, motivation, hard work and even a little luck," said Staff Sgt. Katelina Tiumalu, 92nd ARW protocol NCO in charge. "What we do affects the whole base and outside the gates. The most challenging aspect about our job is the fact that nothing is set in stone. Each scenario is different and unique, and every time I feel I have the operation down-pat, 'boom, guess again'
because the next event or DV is completely different of has different preferences so it's back to the drawing board."
Understandably, the protocol office receives feedback following most visits or events they coordinate.
"We measure our success by the absence of comment from base leadership," Smith-Tallan said. "I enjoy looking at those I serve, reading their face and knowing that we just executed a perfect visit or event - no words need to be spoken, it's obvious."
Base leadership appreciates the efforts and end results the protocol office brings to the table.
"Our protocol office takes the extra steps to make sure we [Fairchild] projects the right image for both the base and the Air Force," said Col. Paul Guemmer, 92nd ARW commander. "Bo and her staff are the 'behind the scenes dream team' ensuring visits and ceremonies run smoothly and without fault. They are truly the unsung heroes because of the behind the scenes nature of their job, but they are out front with their excellent reputation of bringing the best protocol services to our many visitors - I tip my hat to them."