Behind the scenes: JBLE protocol preserves tradition

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Austin Harvill
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The mission of the Joint Base Langley-Eustis protocol office is to uphold the culture, traditions and history of the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army.

"The military culture gives all of us a shared identity; it creates solidarity," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mary Atkinson, 633rd Air Base Wing protocol specialist. "Protocol preserves that culture through ceremonies by enforcing our age-old traditions."

Since the beginning of American military history, the tasks of defining a rank structure and establishing leaders have been paramount. Service members had to recognize leaders in battle and understand whose orders to follow to achieve mission success.

Promotion and change of command ceremonies were created to formalize leadership designations. As time went on and these ceremonies evolved, unit flags were created and placed next to the American flag, dignitaries were seated according to rank and other traditions were adopted that are still an integral part of ceremonies today.

While technology has changed much of how the military communicates, units still hold official ceremonies to convey changing leadership, and protocol offices aim to maintain those traditions.

Protocol officials also aide the base commander in preparation of tours, distinguished guest visits, and change of command, retirement or promotion ceremonies, and provide information on proper flag placement, courtesies and logistics preparation for events, said Atkinson.

"If you take a party planner and a project manager and put them together, you get an idea of what we do daily," said 1st Lt. Chris Copeland, 633rd ABW protocol deputy chief. "We communicate across our two installations and our two command units to provide our Service members with what they need to adhere to our traditions."

Because Fort Eustis and Langley contain the headquarters for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and Air Combat Command, respectively, the protocol offices at the installation level only cover units that fall under the 633rd ABW, said Copeland.

Most of the time, Copeland said the protocol office works hand-in-hand with command-level offices to provide a more complete experience for incoming dignitaries or special guests.

The protocol office also sets up itineraries for commanders, vice commanders or distinguished visitors. This way, leadership can dedicate time to communicating with the base populace or coordinate efforts with other DVs.

"A lot of my work comes from making lodging reservations or adding a personal touch to a [DV's] stay at JBLE," said Atkinson. "Our senior leadership has worked hard to achieve their positions, so we want to show them our respect and allow them to continue the mission without missing a beat."

Whether she is writing personal greetings for a general or working with young Airmen and Soldiers who have been promoted for the first time, there is one thing Atkinson believes makes the whole process worthwhile.

"When I work on events, I really get to see the big picture and learn about all the changes in the Air Force and the Army," said Atkinson. "But even among all those changes, I know what I do will keep one thing from changing: the culture that makes us all family."