Air Force Protocol
from 'Til Wheels are Up'


Conferences, workshops and seminars are events that you may be asked to manage or support. These will range in complexity from a single half-day working session to perhaps a week long event, which will include several social functions. Normally your involvement will be focused on supporting social events and ensuring certain logistics matters have been handled (billeting, transportation, DV brochures, etc.). For large conferences, your commander should appoint an Office of Primary Responsibility (OPR) to lead the effort and make sure that all arrangements are made.

Following are descriptions of the activities and arrangements that are common to most conferences. All of these "factors" may not apply in your situation. You'll also want to refer to other chapters dealing with Entertaining, Table Seating and Arrangements and Invitations, among others, for details on how to prepare for specific events. This chapter primarily focuses on the activities and factors somewhat unique to setting up conferences.

We've found the most taxing conferences to be "Commander's Conferences," hosted by our four-star, and professional society or organizational symposia where there will be several distinguished speakers and attendees. In these cases protocol is involved from start to finish, ensuring DVs are met when they arrive, taken care of throughout their stay, and properly farewelled when they depart. It is critical that an OPR be appointed who has the manpower resources to manage these events. For example, here at the headquarters the Director of Executive Services has overall responsibility for Commander's Conferences, and will appoint several other Directors to manage specific events (the conference agenda, major social functions). For our last Commander's Conference, over 75 people played major roles in supporting various elements of the conference!

Early On

Here's a partial list of the major factors that should be "nailed down" early in the planning process. Note that they are almost identical to planning factors for other critical events as well.

  • Select a date for the conference early, based on the host's availability (and the availability of high-level guests or participants) and the availability of conference facilities. Make sure there are no other major activities going on in your community that would make it difficult to get quarters during the conference. For example, early August is a bad time in Colorado Springs because that's when the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo is in town.

    The commander should appoint an OPR to be responsible for the conference. If it's a professional society or organization who is co-hosting the event (e.g., ADPA, NSIA, APCEA), this becomes a critical planning factor. There must be clear lines of authority and responsibility for the complex planning involved with these conferences to succeed. Make sure specific individuals are assigned responsibility for specific tasks and develop milestones for accomplishing these tasks.

  • Decide the agenda and major social events (dinners, formal luncheons, entertainment, guest speakers, locations, meal and other costs, etc.) and reserve any additional facilities. Determine the total cost to be charged each attendee (factor in all conference materials, speaker fees, refreshments, and meals.) Hotel/accommodation charges are normally the separate responsibility of the attendee for Air Force sponsored conferences. Recommend that you as the Protocol Officer not be directly involved in handling any conference fees.

  • Decide early on as to spouse attendance! This will impact greatly on your subsequent planning. Ensure that the results of this decision are included in any initial information papers alerting the command to the conference.

  • Publicize early! Get registration information distributed at least six to eight weeks prior to the event. It's a good idea to distribute a brochure with the agenda and proposed guest speakers, even if they have not confirmed yet. (However, you should have at least confirmed their availability and made sure their secretaries have "penciled" in their calendars for the event.)

  • Professional society or organizational conferences will likely have a mixture of contractors and military attendees. Conference planners need to determine security clearance requirements and methods for passing clearances and include these with the registration instructions.

  • Begin thinking about how you'll transport conference attendees from hotels to the conference location if POV parking is limited.

  • How many distinguished visitors are you likely to have participate? You'll need to consider escort officers for each. You'll also need to think about working separate itineraries for these individuals who could include visits to your base activities or courtesy calls with your commander and senior staff.

  • Make plans to train the escort officers on their duties and responsibilities. We suggest assigning each escort officer a single DV, and task them to work with the DV's office on travel and other arrangements.

  • You may need to have your staff judge advocate review plans to provide government resources in support of these major conferences. Normally there won't be problems in providing transportation or even conference facilities if the command is hosting, co-hosting, or sponsoring the event. However, a wise (and successful!) OPR will confirm with his lawyer first before committing.
Intermediate Stages

Now, you're about two weeks out from the conference start date. What do you need to worry about here? Plenty! So we'll focus on your likely responsibilities as the protocol officer.
  • Train escort officers. A critical step if you're expecting several DVs to attend or participate. See Chapter on DV Visits for details, but you'll want to make sure escort officers selected are the best your organization has because they'll be representing your commander, and first impressions are lasting ones. Also, make sure escort officers have tentative itineraries developed, and give them hard suspense on when you need the final itineraries completed.

  • Confirm social arrangements you are responsible for. Have the restaurants, banquet facilities, officers' club, etc., been reserved, menus (and prices) agreed to and special arrangements made for entertainment? Have these been agreed to in writing? This is also a good time to think about any inclement weather plans as backup for outside activities that are canceled due to bad weather i.e., afternoon golf matches rained or snowed out - what will you/OPR/host do with attendees?

  • Do you have a complete list of invitees and are you responsible for any administrative support for the conference (making name tags, preparing conference material other than DV Brochures, etc.) If so, now is a good time to use your computer resources and begin entering the data (see chapter on Computer Support for ideas).

Final Stages

Approximately one week out from your conference you should begin confirming all of your earlier coordination! (The DV Visit Master Checklist at appendix 16-1 should be helpful to you at this time.)
  • Confirm any DV participation, itineraries (to include any inclement weather plans), escort officer responsibilities (office calls, briefings, etc.).

  • Confirm billeting, transportation, messing, and entertainment arrangements.

  • Make a first cut at any seating plans you are responsible for. You may consider arranging seating by position rather than rank. This will allow you to make last-minute changes easily without impacting on the entire seating plan for that event. Of course you may very well be forced into a purely rank structured seating plan.

  • Complete all administrative or computer generated support items (nametags, namecards, programs, seating diagrams, table plans, parking signs, etc.).

  • Confirm who will greet/host/farewell all attending DVs. This information must be shared with the escort officers also.

  • Confirm all arrangements for mementos, plaques, flag set-ups for speakers cr honored guests, master of ceremony(ies), biographies and introductions.

  • Confirm all security arrangements to include parking and nametags or passes needed for any restricted area. Also confirm who/where will any classified material be stored (HINT: Not by the Protocol Officer in the Protocol Office!) Also confirm any arrangements for secure telephone or facsimile support required specifically for the conference.

  • Confirm all other audio visual support (presentation rooms, slide flippers, TV/VCR(s), computers, etc.). The OPR/host will set and announce any format requirements for presentation products.

  • Confirm planned light refreshments for breaks and/or working sessions.


Be ready for attendee changes! There will invariably be last minute additions or drops. Have some idea of what transportation, seating, greeting, or other changes you may have to quickly plan and execute.

The OPR/host should be able to make any required weather decisions early-on. Do not cancel any inclement weather arrangements until you are sure they will not be needed.
  • Greeters determined to match DV arrival schedules. Remind greeters that military airlift arrives early sometimes and therefore the greeter should be in place accordingly. Brief greeters on aircraft parking procedures. Also remind greeters of any ground transportation plans, and location of the nearest telephone/facsimile or restroom.

  • All required vehicles should be clean and on line, with drivers who are totally familiar with the sequence of events. Each DV vehicle should have a star plate as appropriate. Ensure that drivers are familiar with their vehicle (trunk release, door locks, safety items, etc). Any conference-specific parking signs should be in place. Be sure you allow a little extra time for travel by bus, if used. Also recommend you get face-to-face with the driver as to any specific routing and parking arrangements of concern to you.

  • All accommodations should be checked and ready (welcome notes/packets, telephones, mementos or fruit baskets if appropriate, building maps to locate other attendees. etc.).

  • Classified storage is available. Recommend you let the OPR handle this issue in its entirety but you do need to know what the arrangements are.

  • All administrative support items should be complete and ready for issue per the overall plan. Any conference booklets, to include any "executive summaries," should generally be the responsibility of the OPR.

  • Triple check the escort officers! Always have a spare escort and vehicle available to assist with that unexpected DV you know is going to magically appear!! The OIC for the escorts must announce and enforce any specific uniform requirements.

During Conference
  • Assist the OPR/host as required. You will probably act as an impromptu escort and/or aide throughout the conference! Be available to assist your DVs as their home offices may not have any other telephone number but the Protocol Office.

  • Replenish refreshments as necessary.

  • Be flexible and handle changes in a calm professional manner. You will invariably have DV arrival/departure schedule changes which will cause attendance and seating changes.

After Conference
  • Capture any historical data of importance to the Protocol Office (list of actual attendees, any mementos presented, survey responses, receipts for any official expenditures, etc.). This should be accomplished within 72 hours of conference adjournment, while all of "the good, the bad, and the ugly" are fresh in your mind.

  • Don't forget to say "thank you," both officially via letters of appreciation and also through more informal means. It took "a cast of thousands" to pull this off so don't be shy with the kudos. Don't forget the escorts, some of them were probably outstanding!!

  • Make a genuine effort to record any lessons learned. This conference will not be your last; make the next one better!

As you can see, conference planning and management can be a complex and involved process regardless of the part you play. Whether the conference is conducted in your building, or at an off-site, it can be a difficult and exacting process to carry out with good results.

Attached is an example checklist