Protocol: perfection at all costs

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brandon Esau
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

The hustle and bustle surrounding any ceremony or high-level visit on any Air Force installation around the world requires a lot of moving parts to be put in the right place for ultimate success.

Whether it’s having people in the right place at the right time, ensuring subject matter experts are prepared to provide mission briefs to showcase RAF Mildenhall’s capabilities, or simply making sure all hospitality needs are met, the 100th Air Refueling Wing Protocol office steps up to the plate every time.

“Our job is to be in charge of the coordination of distinguished visitors, foreign dignitaries or high ranking government and military official visits, change of command ceremonies and other high visibility events happening on base,” said Rebekah Hedstrom, 100th ARW Chief of Protocol. “We develop itineraries, set-up meetings, dinners, lodging and do everything necessary to make our guests visit comfortable and profitable.”

This two-person team consists of Hedstrom and Tech. Sgt. Genevieve Villela, a former quality assurance manager and now 100th ARW protocol NCO-in-charge of protocol, who brings the military and enlisted viewpoint to make sure all customs and courtesies are followed.

“Simply put, we make sure all of the finer details, many of which most people don’t realize are important, are taken care of during visits and ceremonies,” Villela said. “We want RAF Mildenhall to be seen in the brightest light, so we make sure to take care of every visit and event from cradle to grave.”

Before any event occurs, the protocol office receives a notification and goes right into research on visitors, obtaining biographies and piecing together the best strategic plan possible through the development of minute-by-minute itineraries.  They then work with base leadership and project officers to go over the objectives of a visit or event, discuss pomp and circumstance and put all the pieces together for a successful result.


“Certain things need to happen at certain times,” Hedstrom said. “Guests must be greeted properly, locations need to be prepared, transportation needs to be taken care of and place settings for a meal must be correct. Attention to detail is the name of the game.”

RAF Mildenhall averages about three to four high-level visits each month, but the team knows anything can come down the pipeline at any time.

“Every day is different, and though we do have a schedule, we must always be prepared to welcome anyone who wants to see the mission at work,” Villela said. “We work very hard to make sure our leadership and base look good; whether it’s making them aware of any diplomatic or political situations or putting everyone in the proper place at the proper time.”

The team also knows resilience is vital to being successful in this job, because not everything goes to plan.

“Even though it is our job to make sure everything goes off without a hitch, not everything will happen the way it should,” Hedstrom remarked. “You just have to have tough skin and not let the world fall apart. Bearing is key to success, and mistakes will happen, but we’re always ready to meet challenges.”

The protocol office faces highs and lows every day, but they truly understand how essential they are to the mission.

“Nothing happens in the Air Force without a reason,” Villela said. “Our purpose is to make sure everyone who is taking part in the event understands the big picture and our hope is to put our people in the best position to represent RAF Mildenhall and the Air Force.”

Past visitors to the base include current Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright among others.