Protocol: the team no one sees

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Suzanna Plotnikov
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

They blend into the background watching as people pile in waiting for the event to start.

After weeks of coordination and overseeing of minuscule details, the change of command this team planned is finally taking place.

The three-man 81st Training Wing protocol office, unnoticed by many, are in charge of the coordination for every event that takes place on base.

“We kind of stay in the background,” said 1st Lt. Brianna Houston, 81st TRW Protocol Office chief of protocol.

The office is in charge of coordination, creating itineraries and making sure everybody is in the correct spot for an event. They are also responsible for covering the smallest of details such as who is speaking at a ceremony, the order everybody is introduced, how the flags are set up and how the honor guard is presenting the colors; a lot of things the attendants of these events may not think about.

“I wouldn’t say we’re a jack of all trades, but we have a hand in almost everything that goes on around base as far as group, wing and higher level leadership is concerned,” said Tech. Sgt. Brian Cloutier, 81st TRW Protocol Office NCO in charge.

Cloutier, originally an air traffic controller, wanted diversity in his professional background that would give him a breadth of experience. When an opportunity to step out of his career field and into protocol presented itself, he jumped at the chance.

“I was interested in something different and challenging and this has been pretty eye opening for me because it uncovers a side of wing and higher level leadership,” said Cloutier. “What I found out was it has a lot to do with a lot of different things.”

Cloutier explained that protocol has given him opportunities he never imagined in his original career field.

“When the Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright came, I was on his tour for three straight days making sure all the seating was set up correctly, making sure there were people to meet and greet him at the buildings and were there when he exited,” said Cloutier. “At the end, I got coined by him for a job well done. It’s a unique opportunity to get coined by the chief master sergeant of the Air Force.”

Despite all the perks that come with the job and even with all the planning and coordination to make sure every event goes smoothly, not everything goes according to plan all the time. With this job, they have to expect the unexpected.

“When you’ve taken weeks and weeks to plan an event and you think you have it all figured out with the seating and order of precedence, all of a sudden important people that weren’t going to show up decide to show up or vice versa,” said Cloutier. “You have to roll with those changes. On the day of the event there’s almost always going to be changes and we try our best to adapt and roll with it and be professional in the moment to make sure things happen as necessary.”

Although Keesler might be considered a small base, it does not mean it isn’t busy. The protocol office averages two to four events each week not counting the reoccurring events like drill downs, promotion and graduation ceremonies.

“A lot of people don’t know what protocol is,” said Cloutier. “They don’t know how stressful the job can be, the late hours we put in and the weekends we miss. While most people don’t understand our job or recognize our job, there are people who do. The most rewarding part of my job is if a lot of hard work is put into something and everything goes well. We are a small office and when you make stuff happen as a team, it’s pretty satisfying.”