6th AMW protocol team leads from behind the scenes

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Shandresha Mitchell
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Most Airmen attend events at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, with little knowledge of the extensive planning, preparation and execution it takes to make the events happen.

Staff Sgt. Corey Matera, NCO in charge of flightline protocol assigned to the 6th AMW, explained that working behind the scenes at all of the large events for MacDill makes him feel like an invisible hero.

“We swoop in, advise the point of contacts on how to have a successful event, ensure the event starts on time and then disappear into the masses,” said Matera. “I love my job and enjoy coming to work every day, but no one really knows who we are.”

Installation protocol offices establish quality protocol programs, identify requirements and execute their programs in compliance with Air Force instruction. The offices are responsible for customs and courtesies during Air Force ceremonies, conferences and social events, hosting distinguished visitors, and honors afforded at military funerals.

“When we begin planning for large scale events, such as change of command or ribbon cutting ceremonies, we usually begin coordination 30 to 60 days in advance,” said Staff Sgt. Kari Rivera, NCO in charge of protocol assigned to the 6th AMW. “For even larger events, like AirFest and Corona, we begin planning a minimum of 90 days in advance.”

Each event planned begins in a similar manner; speaking with a project officer about the commander’s expectations, then moving on to providing approved templates of an event’s traditions and procedures.

The four-man protocol team partakes in ceremonies such as individual retirements, promotions, change of commands, award ceremonies, ribbon cuttings, memorial services, equal opportunity observances, dignified transfers and more.

“We coordinate rehearsals, review scripts, designate parking and seating assignments, and send out invitations,” said Rivera. “We are always busy, so staying on track is vital in the event’s success.”

The protocol team is involved in every minute detail of event planning.

Matera explained that the team's dynamic is very effective because they have Mrs. Elizabeth (Cleo) Ekladyous to lead them. She allows the team to maintain their independence to accomplish tasks, but never allows them to fail.

For the Airmen, a successful visit for distinguished visitors to MacDill requires arrival and departure times, the purpose of the visit, number in party, communications requirements, lodging and transportation arrangements, briefings (classified or unclassified), social functions, and much more.

The protocol Airmen also work on special projects requiring an understanding of international, diplomatic or political sensitivity to individuals and groups representing a variety of political affiliations, cultures, nationalities and religions.

“We get a lot more traffic than most protocol offices being that the combatant commands are located on MacDill,” said Rivera, when explaining how the 6th AMW’s protocol mission allows them to explore the international, diplomatic and political facets of their job because of their role in assisting the combatant commands, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, as well as the Coalition Village.

“Since I’ve been a part of the team, I’ve had the honor of meeting the King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, the Vice President Joseph Biden, the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and the Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, just to name a few,” said Rivera.

Both, Matera and Rivera, explained that the job can have its stressful moments, but it’s also rewarding because they are representing the wing, and everyone is counting on them to make sure the events run smoothly.

“After a successful event, I feel the giant weight that I've been carrying on my shoulders for the past few months finally lift away,” said Matera. “All the long hours I pour into an event, coming in early and staying in the office until 8 p.m., finally becomes worth it all.”