Flexibility really is the key to airpower

1st Lt. Rachel Phillips

1st Lt. Rachel Phillips

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- It's Friday afternoon, and all seems quiet around Charleston AFB. A staff sergeant is in the protocol office planning her weekend.

The phone rings and it's the command post, and they're telling her a distinguished visitor is on board a C-21 set to arrive on base in 30 minutes.

She has the distinguished visitor's full name and rank, but that is it. The staff sergeant notifies the wing commander that a general officer will be arriving in less than half an hour. Also, in the remaining 28 minutes, she has to set-up a formal distinguished visitor arrival, lodging request, vehicle request and departure.

Would you be ready to handle this type of situation without any "formal" protocol training? Secondly, would you be ready to handle this situation in a deployed environment with little or no working knowledge of military protocol?

The reason I ask is because of the deployments we are facing in the leaner Air Force, deployments are becoming second nature to most Airmen. Almost all of us will deploy at least once during our time here at Charleston AFB, and many times throughout our military careers.

Airmen normally accept deployments within their own career fields and participate in familiar duty qualifications while deployed. However, this particular scenario is rapidly changing along with the day-to-day mobility requirements for Airmen. This is partly due to our "doing more with less" attitude that has become prevalent in the wake of recent manning cuts.

In the past, protocol deployments were filled by services Airmen; however, due to the manning cuts and extended deployments, other career fields are now being pulled to fill these positions. When the taskings are released during high tempo times, they often hold a line remark stating any Air Force Specialty Code can fill the tasking, much like a third country national escort requirement

Since the entire Air Force is experiencing similar manning issues and increases in deployments outside of our normal purview, Charleston AFB needs to be flexible to adapt to ever-changing requirements as we undergo an adjustment period. Also, we must participate in career-broadening experiences in order to take advantage of a smaller force structure with more diverse opportunities. This really brings a new meaning to the phrase, "flexibility is the key to airpower." Still, through it all, I have no doubt Charleston will maintain the same high level of excellence in our mobility mission performance that has earned us a first-rate reputation across the Air Force.

In closing, I would like to challenge you to consider a few things as you finish this article and continue your service to this country. The scenario at the beginning of the article is a true example of situational flexibility we are often faced with in the military. Two weeks ago, we were surprised when a general officer's plane landed on the flightline and the chief master sergeant of the Air Force just happened to be on the same plane passing through. We had mere minutes to notify everyone of his arrival and ensure the layover visit was a success.

Would you have the flexibility to handle this type of scenario daily if required? Would you have the basic military knowledge of customs and courtesies to deploy outside your own career field?

Here is a short quiz to test your general protocol knowledge in order to see how prepared you really are.

1. An Airman is watching a football game (in civilian clothes) at his old high school. Prior to the game, a color guard walks down the sideline in front of the stands, proceeds to midfield, and remains in place until completion of the National Anthem. What should the Airman do?
A. Come to the position of attention and remain until the completion of the national anthem.
B. Salute six paces before and six paces after the color guard passes.
C. Come to the position of attention, place right hand over the heart and remain until the completion of the national anthem.

2. A group of majors are outside of base operations waiting for a crew bus, and their squadron commander approaches. One of the majors is the first to notice the commander. What should he do?
A. Ignore the commander and continue to talk about what he received for his birthday.
B. Call the area to attention and salute the squadron commander.
C. Ensure the rest of the group is aware of his approach and that everyone salutes the commander.

3. True or false: An Airman, in uniform, is attending his grandfather's funeral where full military honors are rendered. He only needs to salute during the playing of Taps.

4. True or false: You receive an invitation to attend a retirement dinner. The invitation indicates the dress to be "semi-formal." It is appropriate to tell your spouse that it will be fine to wear a "dressy knee-length" or "Sunday" dress, or polo shirt with khaki pants.


1. C - In civilian clothes, when outdoors, and an uncased U.S. flag passes, stand at attention and place your right hand over your heart. If indoors, the member in civilian clothes will only stand at attention.

2. C - If you are standing in a group with no one in charge, the first person to see a senior officer will call the group's attention to his approach, and all members, if junior, will salute.

3. False - You should salute the casket as it is carried by your position. You should also salute during the firing of volleys and the playing of Taps.

4. False - Semi-formal dress for ladies is a dressy suit or a knee-length cocktail dress or a business suit for men.

If you scored:

4/4: There is a good possibility the protocol office will ask for your assistance as a future project officer.

3/4: You can assist the individual whose score was four.

2/4: Still trainable!

1/4: Qualified usher or cake cutter.

0/4: Good news! You can still set-up and tear down chairs at events.