ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Adhering to traditions has been a staple of the military structure since its creation. From promotion ceremonies, to award banquets, every event follows a structure of to infuse honor into every celebration.
To ensure proper alignment with tradition, 97th Air Mobility Wing protocol office experts assist in the execution of military official ceremonies to honor the heritage they are founded on.
“A lot of the Air Force is comprised of traditions, so our job is to assist with that,” said Gail Hargis, the chief of protocol assigned to the 97th Air Mobility Wing. “We make sure that the event is dignified and a lot of what we do is guidance that has accumulated over time. Overall our main goal is to ensure events are performed properly.”
According to Hargis, being in the protocol career field requires members to adopt a certain skill set to perform daily duties. Skills like being self-motivated, eager to learn, attention to detail, and most importantly, the ability to adapt to changes. A newer member of the protocol field, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Sean Powell, the noncommissioned officer in charge of protocol assigned to the 97th AMW has learned firsthand important these skills are going into the protocol environment.
“Being a flyer, that’s all we did. Things that protocol handles were just quietly in the background,” said Powell. “Becoming part of protocol was a culture shock, but a good one. I have gained a lot of insight into different sections of the base. I didn’t think I would learn so much and the work it takes putting on these ceremonies.”
With everything protocol is involved in, their schedule is constantly fluctuating according to Powell. He explained that being able to manage a schedule is a crucial component to mission success in order for events to run smoothly. That all of these efforts are to ensure the members who the ceremonies are for are being properly honored according to tradition.
“Ceremonies aren’t happening every day and it only happens to a person a limited amount of times in their careers,” said Hargis. “That’s why it is so important to ensure members receive their due diligence when they are being recognized. The same goes for when distinguished visitors need a parking space or room accommodations. Doing this is a courtesy because they have limited time to get what they need to be accomplished.”
The Protocol team are the experts who deal with detailed tasks such as dietary requirements and offering toasts to assist commanders and project officers. According to Hargis, most guidance only has recommendations on procedures, so it falls on tradition and their office to make the official call.
“One change can affect the rest of an event, for example, if someone doesn’t show up or another unexpected person does,” said Powell. “In cases like lodging, seating, scripts, and parking this can affect the whole event and it’s our job to help the project officers with these unforeseen occurrences.”
Even with the traditional dedication, high operational work tempo, and rapid response requirements, Hargis says, there is plenty of job satisfaction being in protocol.
“We get a great sense of pride watching these events take place knowing we assisted with all aspects of the planning and execution...that people relied on us to provide proper direction in accordance with written guidance and traditions,” said Hargis. “It takes a lot to put together, but knowing that we were able to give proper recognition, courtesy and respect is invaluable.”