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Information on Distinguished Visitors

Air Force Protocol
from 'Til Wheels are Up'


"An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less."

The visit of a Distinguished Visitor (DV) is an important event in the day-to-day life of an organization. Everyone wants to make a good impression whether your visitor is a congressman, foreign dignitary, or city mayor. Problems with these visits can be avoided through strict attention to detail, from the preplanning for arrival, to luggage handling, to dinner arrangements, to departure plans. Remember, you never get a second change to make a first impression.

Your DV program should ensure that proper courtesy, military customs and traditions are observed when distinguished visitors, foreign or domestic, visit your military installation. Keep local commanders and directors apprised of scheduled arrivals, departures and recommended personal involvement with distinguished visitors.

Who is a DV?

Who is entitled to DV status? A DV is defined as:
  1. Any general or flag officer
  2. Any government official with rank equivalent to a Brigadier General or higher
  3. Any foreign military officer or other individual designated a DV by the Under Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs (SAF/IA)
  4. Any other DV group or individuals identified in the DoD Table of Precedence; refer to Order of Precedence
At your location, O-6/civilian equivalents may be entitled to DV status. Additionally, your commander will provide clear guidance on who he or she believes warrants DV status.

Initial Notification of a DV Visit

Notification of a DV visit can take several forms and can be either formal or informal in nature. More often than not though, it will be in the form of a telephone call or written correspondence. The key to getting the proper information consistently, regardless of the form of notification, is to have a list of questions handy that can be answered. Some of the different ways notification of a DV visit can be made are:
  • Visitor's office contacts Protocol
  • Commander receives a note or telephone call
  • Directorate receives a note or telephone call
  • Billeting requests from individuals
  • Higher headquarters message
How do you start the DV visit process? First, you will need several pieces of supplemental information: arrival and departure times, purpose of visit, number in party, billeting arrangements, transportation requirements, office calls, briefings (classified or unclassified), social functions, entertainment, tours, meals (including dietary or customs restrictions), honor cordon or guard, mementos, photography, publicity or security level, and biographies.

If the DVs are foreign dignitaries, other considerations come into play, such as interpreters, greeting, visiting, eating, and gestures. Considerations for foreign dignitaries will be covered in more detail later in this chapter. The key to initial notification is to get as much information as is feasibly possible in order to properly plan your DV visit. Once you have attained the initial notification information, get the word out to all the people or agencies that will be involved in the visit. Communication is key to the success of any DV visit, and it begins here and continues throughout the visit process. {INSERT HOW WE DO DV NOTIFICATION REPORTS} (Note: Many installations publish a "DV Visit Schedule" or calendar and distribute this routinely to all organizations that may be involved in visits.)

"The success of any event is directly related to the quality of the planning process. A program with a well-defined focus, that anticipates and provides for contingencies, is a potent business tool."
Mr. Bob Frye, Chief of Protocol, AT&T

Planning a DV Visit

The process of properly planning a DV visit is the most difficult and time consuming of all phases. Although the execution of the DV visit is the most visible and crucial part of the process, it is in the planning phase that you determine the ultimate success of the visit. You must leave no stone unturned as you work the details here! You will need to develop a detailed protocol plan that includes all the information needed to execute the visit, including necessary contingency arrangements. This is not the itinerary you provide the DV, but rather a worksheet where notes and points of contact can be kept and easily referred to.

It is important you establish a set routine in your approach to planning the DV visit. Although no two visits are exactly alike, many of the steps in the planning process remain basically the same for each and every visit. As you gain experience you will be able to establish a routine that allows you to feel more organized in your approach to planning a DV visit.

As is the case with any planning task, you need to understand the major steps in the process as well as the details in each of the steps. What follows is one way to break down the planning phase into its major steps, and the details that must be accomplished in each of the steps. Following this overview of the planning process are more details on the major elements like accommodations, transportation, security, etc., that will offer you useful hints on how to make your visits the most successful ever. We close this section on planning with a discussion of special considerations for foreign visits.

An Overview of the DV Visit Planning Process

Here are the steps we suggest you follow in planning your DV visit. It provides the "flow;" following this discussion are specific planning considerations that, in conjunction with other chapters in this handbook, will give you the detailed "tools" you will need to make your visit successful.

Nail down "Long-lead" Items and Actions. As soon as you receive notification of the visit, make sure of the availability of accommodations (quarters, club) and your commander or host. Conflicts here may lead you to suggest alternative dates for the visit. Tentatively reserve quarters, club or dining facilities, the honor guard, and entertainment. You can cancel or reschedule later. You will also want to determine the purpose of the visit so you can determine what site visits and briefings may be required. Some specific actions to consider:
  • Prepare a checklist when planning all visits to avoid any oversight
  • Arrange quarter's accommodations (more information contained later in this section)
  • Make contact with DV's office (if not done earlier) to determine purpose of the visit and DV's expectations. (This is a good time to get other details, too; like number and names of those accompanying the DV, dietary preferences, etc.)
  • Obtain commanders/host's approval for the visit
Determine Roles and Responsibilities for the Visit.

This can be the most important step in ensuring the success of a visit. As the protocol officer, in many cases, you will handle everything; for larger functions or visits, your commander may appoint a large directorate or unit to be overall office of primary responsibilities (OPR) for the function, and you may be working with project officers and escort officers. Communications between you and the other players is key, as is a clear delineation of responsibilities. It is not as easy as it sounds.

In the headquarters, we have OPRs for almost every visit, and have allocated responsibilities between the protocol officer and the OPR. Here, an 0-6 or 0-5 is appointed as the project officer, and is responsible for the success of the visit. Frequently, the project officer will assign one or more action officers, usually 0-4s or 0-3s, who typically work the details of the visit with the protocol officer. Normally the project officer and/or the action officer, along with the protocol officer, escort the DV throughout the itinerary. For larger functions or visits involving several DVs, we will frequently assign escort officers, usually 0-1s through 0-3s. In all cases, project, action, and escort officers must be among the unit's best; they represent the commander and must have detailed knowledge of the itinerary, available installation resources, and have at hand key telephone numbers (the protocol officer's for example!) to call for help.

In succeeding steps we show, in parentheses, where the OPR or escort officer normally has the tasking. Remember -- things will likely be different at your installation, and these tasks need to be done by someone -- usually you, if no OPR or additional escort officer is assigned!

Areas of Responsibility

In the following section we cover many of the areas where the details can kill you

Planning Considerations.

Everything you wanted to know about what to look for in arranging quarters, security, transportation, itineraries, etc. is here. Well, perhaps not everything, but you will find most areas adequately covered.

Accommodations. When DVs stay overnight at your installation or at a hotel in the area, you should make sure their accommodations are the best available. This information will hopefully help you provide the best possible service to DVs during their visit.

After a DV has toured facilities and sat in long briefings all day, he or she usually cannot wait to get to his/her quarters or suite. This is where the DV will be able to relax and enjoy a bit of privacy. You should use DV suites on your installation, if they are available. This gives you more flexibility with arranging transportation and meal coordination for the DV. You should always prioritize DVs according to their grade and purpose of visit (i.e., PCS, TDY, and leave) before making the reservation. Please refer to AFI 34-246, Air Force Lodging Program, Table 4.4, to see where the DV falls in the priority category. After accomplishing these steps, you are ready to make the reservation. The following steps may vary from installation to installation:
  1. Get the DV's last name, first name, middle initial, and nickname (your commander may want to provide a welcome note, so nicknames can be important)
  2. Rank or grade
  3. Branch of service
  4. Social Security number
  5. Duty title or home address
  6. Purpose of visit
  7. Installation or city
  8. State or country
  9. Date of arrival and departure
  10. Total number of nights
  11. Retirement date and last position held on active duty, if DV is retired
  12. Point of contact and their telephone number
  13. If you have more than one DV, get the same information from each one
Once you have received the above information, call the billeting office and relay the information to the reservation clerk. The reservation clerk inputs the information into the billeting computer. Next, check to see if there are any DV suites available. If so, place your DV in one of the suites. The reservation clerk will assign the DV a room number and a reservation number. Notify the point of contact as to where the DV will stay and provide the room number, telephone number, and building number.

Check the DV suite, before the DV arrives, for cleanliness and amenities. You should contact the billeting office if the DV suite is not up to protocol standards. Your DV may ask for certain items to be available, which are not in the suite. See if the items are available at the billeting office. If so, place the items in the DV's suite. You should check with the installation commander or the commander-in-chief to see if they would like to place a welcome note in the DV's suite.

Searching for the Right Hotel.

There will be times when the DV suites will be completely occupied and you will have to choose a hotel to put your DV in. This can be a very tough decision. Before selecting a hotel, you should always check with the billeting office to see if it has contract quarter facilities available. If it does, then arrange the reservation with the billeting reservation clerk and the hotel to make sure you have given them the correct arrival and departure date and number of rooms needed. When the DV occupies contract quarters, the billeting office will issue the DV a contract quarters statement. The statement will include the DV's name, number of nights, name of the hotel, and price per night of the quarters. The DV is responsible for paying all room and incidental charges when checking out. The hotel keeps a copy of the contract quarters statement and it will provide a copy to the DV upon checking out. (For further guidance regarding contract quarters, refer to AFI 34-246, Air Force Lodging Program).

Things to Consider in a Hotel


There are many forms that an itinerary may take, depending on your commander's desires and the extent of involvement you will have with the DVs. The key to making a useful document is in answering the basic questions of who, what, where, when, how and the proper dress code for each event. Place yourself in the DV's shoes and review the itinerary from his or her perspective. The use of notes placed in appropriate locations within the itinerary can help to reduce the questions which may be asked of you throughout the visit. As long as your format shows the date, time, activity, and location, as well as those DVs participating and what to wear, you have covered the minimum requirements for the itinerary. Your itinerary should flow and make sense from one event or date to the next. Too much detail in the itinerary can work against you, and the DVs may tend to watch the clock rather than enjoy the events they are participating in. The physical size or print of the itinerary may be something you should consider. If the activities the DV will be involved in will require a significant amount of movement or being on the go, you may want to make the itinerary pocket size. On the other hand, if the DV is elderly, you may want to consider larger type or bolder font.

Itinerary Scheduling and Interests

Welcome Package.

This package can be quite simple or very elaborate, again depending on who your DV is and what events are involved. As a matter of professional courtesy, it is always appropriate to have some sort of welcome note included or placed next to your DV's welcome package. This can be a handwritten note, which is always preferred, or a preprinted note signed by the commander sponsoring the DV's visit. It can be as simple as welcoming the DV to the installation and hoping that his or her visit is enjoyable and professionally rewarding; or, if the commander knows the DV personally, the note can be more personal to include an invitation to lunch, dinner, etc. Additionally, a fruit basket may be provided for certain foreign DVs, where appropriated funds can be utilized. Another way of providing fruit baskets is to check with your local Chamber of Commerce regarding its policy on funding such items for DVs.

Package Contents

Physical Security Considerations.

Either the Security Forces (SFs) or Office of Special Investigations (OSI) should be notified in advance and in writing each and every time a DV visits an installation. As to whether the SFs or OSI or both are notified of a DV's visit, depends primarily on the rank of the DV and/or the threat level (THREATCON) which exists at the installation during the visit. In some cases, a DV visit may be postponed or canceled based on THREATCON. The notification process should include all pertinent facts concerning the DV and the places he or she plans to visit. If there are any last minute changes to the DV's itinerary, the SFs and/or OSI should be on your list of personnel/organizations to be notified of these changes.

Additionally, there may be the DV visit where foreign dignitaries are from a royal family, high ranking officials from a foreign government, or high ranking officials from our own government. In this instance, you will probably get more guidance and help than you ever dreamed possible. From a security perspective, you will more than likely be working with either bodyguards or secret service agents as well as local SFs and/or OSI. Sometimes these individuals will insist on keeping weapons on their person, even in Restricted or Controlled Areas. Pre-coordination with your commander, installation security officials, and custodians of restricted areas to be visited is critical to preclude embarrassment. Coordination and flexibility will be the key to success on your part in these situations. Anytime public appearances are on the agenda, you must be keenly aware of the type of facility to be used and whether or not it will be acceptable from a security standpoint. Also, seating arrangements may not be in accordance with accepted protocol guidance, but rather designed for physical safety of the DV in relation to the layout of the facility.

Classification and Clearance Requirements.

If the DV will get classified briefings or tours, then the matter of clearance for the DV becomes an issue. In the case where classified briefings are to be given, you should be aware of established procedures for ensuring the DV has the appropriate clearance to receive the briefings. The Special Security Officer (SSO) or security manager for the DV and his or her counterpart at the installation where the briefings will take place should correspond with one another regarding DV clearance information. For standard classified briefings, you should receive the DV's clearance information from the OPR and carry it with you during those briefings to demonstrate clearance of the DV, if challenged to do so. (See section in this chapter on Briefings for Foreign DVs.)

While it may be the OPR's responsibility to ensure clearances have been passed, make sure it has happened! Nothing is more embarrassing (or disrupting) than to find your DV held up because clearances were not passed or worse yet, having him or her spread-eagled face down on the ground for inadvertently violating security directives (it has happened in the past!).


There are times when it is appropriate for you to schedule military or civilian press coverage for a DV visit. You should work this through the Public Affairs office and/or photographic laboratory. In some cases, where the DV is a senior military or civilian official, he or she may bring along a Public Affairs representative. In this instance, that individual will handle all publicity arrangements using you as a go between. You will need to check with the DV beforehand to determine his or her desires regarding publicity, if it is anticipated that press coverage is likely during the visit. In cases where the DV desires photographs for developing at the end of a trip, where your installation is one of several visited, make plans in advance with the photographer to turn over the undeveloped film to the DV's escort officer. It is also important to specify whether color of black and white film is to be used. The way to get photographic coverage of a DV visit is by submitting AF Form 833, Visual Information Support Request, to your local installation's photographic laboratory in advance of the visit dates.


Transportation Planning. One of the more important planning factors for you is how to get the DV from Point A to Point B during the visit. Depending upon the number of DVs and places they need to go, this could be a massive undertaking requiring several vehicles, drivers, and escort officers. Or, the requirement could be as simple as taking one DV visitor from his or her room, to a meeting location, and then to a point of departure. In either case, you need a transportation plan. The plan should answer the who, what, when, where and how questions. Additionally, why may be a question that you have to answer as well, especially when using government vehicles.
Considerations in Handling Foreign Dignitaries.

All foreign national visits require advance coordination and approval. These kinds of visits are usually sponsored by the service chiefs or the Joint Chiefs of Staff and have an executive agent assigned to coordinate local support and itineraries from facilities or installations that are to be visited. The Secretary of the Air Force International Affairs Office (SAF/IA) is the only approval authority for foreign national visits to Air Force installations. Approval for both the visit and level of disclosure of classified information must come through official foreign channels, and must be in writing. The foreign national requesting the visit initiates the request through his or her respective embassy's air attache office. The embassy forwards an official request to SAF/IA regarding the potential visit. Details will include, but are not limited to, the level of classification, action officer, requested briefings, and protocol involvement. These issues are worked between SAF/IA and your installation's Foreign Disclosure office. The Secretary of the Air Force makes the final determination for approval of the visit.

Most visits to USAF installations by foreign dignitaries are made as a result of an invitation and these people are considered guest of either The Secretary of Defense, The Secretary of the Air Force, or the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. These tours, aside from furthering good will and enhancing favorable relations between the two countries, usually contribute greatly to the success of the USAF worldwide operations. The courtesy extended these DVs, whether military or civilian, should be on the basis of relative rank. There is a tendency in planning a foreign DVs itinerary to resort to the more mundane forms of entertainment because its frequency of occurrence makes it easier to plan. Use distinctive local resources to vary the guests' exposure to American forms of entertainment. Exposure to enlarged social circles can be accomplished by having the hosting responsibility shared by different groups. Local Air Force Association and civic organizations are often willing to help entertain visiting dignitaries.

Foreign DVs are usually accompanied by one or more aides of their own armed service. Frequently, the latter are officers of the highest caliber who are destined for future positions of authority in their country. They often form lasting impressions about the United States on the basis of the treatment accorded them as members of a visiting party. Special attention should also be given to their transportation, dining, and recreational arrangements and needs. Additionally, you should always provide billeting for the visiting foreign DV's U.S. escort officer in the same building as the foreign dignitary whenever possible. Otherwise, make adequate transportation available to this escort. Whenever possible, the HQ USAF escort officer should participate in the events scheduled for the dignitary since he/she is the personal representative of the United States, and his/her stature in the visitor's eyes should be preserved. Occasionally, space may preclude the escort's inclusion in certain social events. In that case, make other provisions for the escort's meals.

Other Considerations

Notification to Installations of Foreign Distinguished Visitors.

HQ USAF normally notifies installations scheduled to be visited by foreign distinguished visitors at least two weeks prior to the arrival of the visitors. The notification, or tour letter or message, is for planning purposes and usually includes the name, rank, and position of the visitors; English language proficiency; clearance instructions; specific equipment in the hands of foreign government; and any particular fields of interest to the visitor. Biographical sketches are furnished, when available, in addition to a complete itinerary for the entire tour.

Itinerary for Foreign Distinguished Visitors.

The itinerary is normally based upon the suggestions of the USAF representative in the country concerned and is compiled in a manner to best serve USAF interests at home and abroad. (See hints for itineraries under the section Planning Considerations.)

HQ USAF Escort Officer.

Foreign dignitaries visiting Air Force installations under the auspices of the USAF are normally accompanied by an Air Force escort officer. Whenever possible, the escort officer is chosen from those officers currently in training for assignment to the attache or mission system in the country concerned. This gives the escort officer a personal interest in the success of the visit. You can alleviate some of your commander's concerns with respect to foreign dignitaries by soliciting the advice of the escort officer on any phase of the local itinerary which needs clarification. He or she will normally be the "paymaster" or "bagperson" for the visit and will reimburse you for all authorized expenses.

Entertainment of Foreign Distinguished Visitors.

Project Officers for Foreign Distinguished Visitors.

As with domestic visitors, a local project officer or escort officer is appointed to accompany the HQ USAF escort officer and the foreign visitors during their tour of the installation. The local project officer is available for necessary liaison between the HQ USAF escort officer and the installation authorities.

Briefings for Foreign Distinguished Visitors.

The most important requirement for you regarding briefings of foreign dignitaries is to notify the local Foreign Disclosure office early, so that it may determine the level of classification which may be briefed to the foreign DVs. A hardcopy of all briefings should be turned over the Foreign Disclosure office to assist in determining this level of classification. Many foreign nationals, who visit Air Force installations, understand English only when it is spoken slowly and simply. Their English language proficiency and other pertinent data may be found in the biographical sketch, which should be provided by the agency issuing the basic invitation. Unless the foreign visitor is fluent in the English language, briefing personnel should refrain from using complex words or sentences. Regardless of the foreign visitor's language proficiency, the briefers should not use acronyms or abbreviations. Use simplified organization charts and avoid complex visual aids -- keep them simple and use pictures to illustrate the point. Further, the briefing should get to the heart of the matter as soon as possible, touching very lightly on details unless the foreign visitor indicates interest in a specific subject. Most visitors are interested primarily in the mission and operations.

Accommodations for Foreign Distinguished Visitors.

Foreign dignitaries should be provided suitable distinguished visitor accommodations on the installation and should be furnished needed transportation. However, when visits extend over the weekend, accommodations in the nearest city will give the foreign visitors a better feel for the American way or life. In most cases, the letter from HQ USAF will indicate the type of accommodations to be provided the foreign dignitaries. (See section on accommodations in this chapter for more specific details.)

Press and Photographic Coverage for Foreign Distinguished Visitors.

As a general rule, the Air Force has no objection to local press and photographic coverage of foreign visitors. But make sure current Public Affairs guidance is followed. The initial release is made by HQ USAF and followed with whatever coverage the local information services officer considers appropriate. At all times, careful consideration should be given to the wishes of the visiting foreign dignitary. If photographic support is required for a foreign DV visit, submit AF Form 833, Visual Information Support Request, to your installation's photographic laboratory as soon as you know that photographs will be taken. You may pay close attention to who, when, what, and where concerning the photographs that are taken, so that you will be able to identify persons and activities when the photographs are developed, and your are requested to annotate and forward them to the DVs.

Executing the DV Visit

The most enjoyable part of the DV visit process in its execution. It is also the most crucial. You have already completed the time consuming and detailed work during the planning phrase. All you have to do now is make sure the DV stays on schedule in accordance with the published itinerary. Well, not quite. Although keeping to the schedule is an important part of the execution phrase of the DV visit, you need to consider several other factors in order to make the visit a success. You may want to include "dry-running" (verbally) the itinerary with a co-worker concentrating on what could go wrong and how you would deal with it.
Post DV Visit Details

Reporting Requirements.

The DV's aircraft has departed and you have already called the DV's office to let them know his departure time and expected arrival time at his next destination. You return to the office and receive a verbal "well done" from your boss as you head back to your desk. Are you really done with this DV visit? Not quite. With technology where it is today, chances are your protocol office has some sort of visitor database, which you will need to update. That way, the next time this particular DV should visit your office, you will have some pertinent information on him or her. What would be some worthwhile information, as a minimum, to have on this database?
  • Title of visit
  • Visitor's full name and nickname
  • Visitor's rank/grade or equivalency
  • Branch of service of visitor
  • Visitor's organization
  • Title of visitor
  • Country; military or civilian status
  • Date of visit; number of days; number in party
  • Command or organization being visited
  • General or Flag officers called on; meals served
  • Command or organization hosting visitor
  • Mementos received from visitor; by whom; on behalf of
  • Mementos presented to visitor; by whom; on behalf of
  • Accommodation location; welcome note provided
  • Any significant comments on visit
If the above listed information were entered into a database, any protocol officer assigned a follow on visit for the same DV would have a good synopsis of the DV's last visit.

A report of visits by congressional parties or foreign nationals is sometimes required by HQ USAF. (Consult AFI 31-401 to determine whether a report must be submitted.)


The only way you will consistently receive feedback on the quality of your DV's visit is to ask for it. An appropriate fashion for doing so might be to draft a letter to the DV from the protocol director soliciting an honest evaluation of the service provided. This letter could be placed in the welcome package or brochure, attached to a survey form on customer satisfaction with an addressed return envelope. Some areas for evaluation on a scale, let's say, from 1 to 5 might be:
  1. Quality of itinerary/welcome package
  2. Quality of DV's accommodations
  3. Overall responsiveness to DV's needs
  4. Quality of tours/briefings
  5. Quality of vehicle/transportation arrangements
  6. Protocol officer's management of DV's visit
  7. Overall impression of visit
At the end of the survey, you might leave several lines open for written comments.

Letters of Appreciation.

One of the most important aspects of a DV visit, and unfortunately, one most often overlooked, is recognizing the effort and achievement of personnel who work so hard to make the DV's visit seem special. Normally, the DV will recognize the efforts of the protocol and project officers, either verbally or in writing. But the protocol and project officers are not the only two individuals who make a visit a success. You should ensure that your office recognizes the efforts who deserve such recognition. It is recommended that the recognition be in writing, so that there is a record of the documentation should it count toward promotion.