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NEWS | Feb. 5, 2014

Pursue challenges

By Staff Sgt. Robert Corbett 628th Air Base Wing protocol specialist

The iconic "Hollywood" cowboy Will Rogers once stated, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

There is a lot to be taken from his words. Like most Airman in our Air Force I was doing all the right things ... mastering my job, learning the roles of becoming a supervisor and it seemed I was on the "right track." But once all the training and mastering of tasks was complete, I found I was not challenging myself to press forward and try something new to grow. Essentially, I was just sitting there waiting to get run over.

I decided to try something new and get out of my comfort zone so I began my position in Protocol a year ago. As a vehicle operator by trade, I had worked with Protocol for years driving "Distinguished Visitor" runs and providing transportation for events. My perception of the Protocol office was that they were a liaison for the wing commander and enforced customs and courtesies for ceremonies. What more could they do, right?

Rounding out my time here I have experienced first-hand that Protocol does a lot more than the general population sees on a daily basis.

Coming from the Logistics Readiness Squadron where mission support is the name of the game, I have always been used to getting my hands dirty and working the necessary hours to get the job done. When selected for Protocol, my first reaction was: "I don't think I can sit at a desk all day, occupy a computer, and become an office worker."

The first week on the job that perspective was completely thrown out of the window. We jumped right into ceremonies, visits, conferences, foreign visits ... and the list continues to this day.

Protocol was best described, in my opinion, by the previous Joint Base Charleston Deputy Commander, Navy Captain Thomas Bailey on the day of his retirement.
"Our protocol staff is like a duck ... on the top of the water all is calm but underneath the legs are always moving," Bailey said.

Behind the scenes, Protocol handles everything from Presidential visits, to visits by military distinguished visitors, foreign dignitaries and other government officials. Our role included building itineraries with project officers, scheduling lodging for their visits, coordinating transportation for events and visits and working with Communications and Public Affairs. I have experienced interacting with local outside agencies and base leadership. I am sure I left a few things out, but there have been numerous diverse missions at Joint Base Charleston, so anything and everything is thrown Protocols way. You will never see the behind the scenes preparations for what goes into the visits for each event until you have the privilege to serve.

The experience I have gained through my time here has been unexpected and invaluable. At first I thought, "Well, I will give this job a shot, try something new and if it looks good on paper, why not?"

I did not know working in Protocol would be so much more and teach me so much about the entire mission of our Air Force. Attention to detail has never been so important. I did not think I would be able to coordinate events for 1,000-plus people or coordinate catering, transportation and take care of more than 60 Distinguished Visitors, or did I ever think I would find enjoyment and satisfaction in orchestrating these events.

Being on the "inside" of how the base works has reinforced why I joined the Air Force almost eight years ago. Before working in Protocol, like many Airmen, I got caught up in work hours, deployments, high op's tempo, low op's tempo, monotony of the mundane tasks. I believe there is a time in a lot of Airmen's careers where they lose sight of the big picture and why we all raised our right hand and swore in. Being in the mix of things and working alongside some of the greatest people I have had the privilege of working with in my career, helping Joint Base Charleston run at full steam and learning something new every day, has brought back that spark and reinforced why I joined the greatest Air Force in the world.

Following my selection as Joint Base Protocol noncommissioned officer in charge, it all clicked for me when meeting with an advance team from the White House preparing for a Secretary of Defense visit. The skills I have obtained in my career all seemed to come full circle. Logistics? I got that. Working with security teams? Check. Planning and organizing events? Done.

At first I was apprehensive to speak up and take on such a task. I thought, "I am just a staff sergeant in a room full of colonels, White House staff and representatives of agencies that are way above my pay grade. But working in Protocol gave me the confidence and knowledge and tactfulness to speak up and display my skills. Yeah, it was stressful and required a lot of hours. But at the end of the event, when everything went off without a hitch, I realized I had found my niche and the experience I acquired enabled me to finally understood that preverbal "Tool Box" we hear so much about.

Stepping out of my normal career field and trying something new is one of the best things I have done in the Air Force. I encourage everyone to get out of their comfort zone during their career and challenge themselves. It doesn't have to be Protocol; there are a ton of special duties out there from wing level all the way down to flight. Just do something different, push yourself, drive forward and don't look back. We are a like-minded community ... that is why we all serve in this great military together. I know with force management issues in front of us, we all have tough decisions and big career changing events ahead, but maybe getting out of our comfort zones and challenging ourselves with a new job, career or adventure, we can all grow stronger as Airman, civilians and citizens of this great country we are sworn to protect.
So whether you're an 0-9, an E-1 or civilian, I challenge everyone to step out and try something new. I know it will make us all better Airmen and keep this Air Force the greatest airpower in the world.