Tuesday, August 13, 2013
- by Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade
Back at the home station members working in the protocol office have years of experience or members to consult that do, but for two members assigned to the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing's protocol office at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, they have had to rely on the trial-by-error method.
Capt. Rigoberto Perez and Staff Sgt. Amanda Harmon, a native of Soddy Daisy, are on a deployment providing protocol services for the first time in their career.
At their home stations, SSgt. Harmon is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the military personnel flight base intro and Capt. Perez is the manpower and personnel flight commander. They are both force support squadron airmen with a customer service knowledge and experience.
"I am used to learning new jobs within the MPS, but it's all information in our career development courses," said SSgt. Harmon, deployed from Tyndall Air Force Base, FL. "I thought when I volunteered for this deployment, I would be driving people around and verifying seating arrangements, but what people don't realize is how much work goes into that and the impact it makes for the base."
In the protocol office, days begin by checking the request box for visits, and then the team begins the planning process for the upcoming visit itinerary. The planning consists of scheduling transportation, meals, preparing the DVQs and coordinating directly with the units who will be involved. The rest of the day is spent managing the distinguished visitor quarters, working on administrative and additional duties and getting ready for the next visit/visitor. Having a customer service-oriented attitude helps in knowing how to approach the day and to take care of people, commented SSgt. Harmon and Capt. Perez.
"Everybody has to deal with Murphy's Law in their jobs back home, but the small details that most people would never think about, if those can go wrong, they will," said SSgt. Harmon. "Sometimes I am like, 'Wow, I am in a combat zone ensuring members have toiletries and bedding,' but the DVs are here for more serious reasons. So if that's what I have to do to ensure my visitors have a good day, my job seems pretty easy."
For example, they said in their first week or two here, a DV arrived but when he got off the plane his luggage wasn't there. They said they weren't prepared for that because they were new and ended up running all over the place to get him essential items, like toiletries and a towel from the Airmen's Attic. Now, there is an extra clean towel and toiletries in the DV rooms.
"You never know how much behind the scenes work goes into coordinating a visit until you work in a job similar to protocol," said Capt. Perez, deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. "You realize why attention to detail is really important because the little things people miss could potentially have a lasting impact on our boss. So walking around knowing you have the boss's association on what you do, it's kind of a big deal."
They both agreed, that good first impressions are important in their line of work and that it's protocol's job to help make them.
"I think first impressions mean a lot. It's a lot easier to build a relationship when you have a good first impression of someone," said SSgt. Harmon. "Even though our piece might 'just be' giving a tour, we [the protocol office] are facilitating that first impression of our wing and its commander, which is a big deal because first impressions are lasting impressions."
Here it is protocol's job to meet the DV's intent and expectations while balancing what the wing commander wants the DV to gain from visiting the wing. When someone requests to visit, protocol builds an itinerary; then, the commander reviews it and protocol adjusts it to what the commander would like the DV to gain during the visit. The itinerary is never solid and can change.
"When DV's visit places on the itinerary they don't think about how we got them there, their main intent is to see the Airmen and learn about their mission," said Capt. Perez. "We are that bridge between the DV, our wing and our boss. If the bridge has a lot of pot holes then it could potentially hamper the way people get across it. We have a lot at stake for our boss. It's forgotten, more often than not, but the way everyone acts and treats people does have a reflection on one else, especially visitors."
Capt. Perez and SSgt. Harmon are used to working with many members back at home station and when they have a problem they are used to there being more than one person to rely on, but here they only have each other and are learning a new job.
"This is OJT at its best because you never know what's going to happen, you just have to adapt and overcome," said Capt. Perez, a native of Star City, Ark. "I have learned patience is a virtue and to trust each other."
"And I have learned not to second guess myself so much and to be more assertive," said SSgt. Harmon, "And have almost overcome my fear of driving on the flight line."
When the two arrived there wasn't much time to learn from their predecessors what protocol entailed, especially when they both have never done this job before. Regardless, the two members decided they wanted to ensure their replacements are better prepared and ready to execute their protocol responsibilities upon arrival. Since arriving three months ago, they both have been streamlining the process and creating continuity. By doing this, they'll help minimize the turnover turmoil and ensure there's no break in the level of support and services provided.