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[ISN] OSI: The eyes of the Air Force
By Jeff Mullin
July 29, 2006
They look like guys you might see in any office, dressed casually in
slacks and polo shirts.
But these are no ordinary young men.
They serve in the Air Force but wear no uniforms and are referred to by no
rank. Their rank, in fact, is kept secret.
Describing their job is not easy. Take a big dose of the FBI, mix in a bit
of CSI and the Secret Service, with a touch of Special Forces and even the
CIA mixed in, and that begins to outline the duties of the men and women
of the Air Force Office of Special Investigation.
The OSI office at Vance Air Force Base is led by Special Agent in Charge
Chris Levendosky. He is assisted by Special Agent Dominick Tripodi.
"Each detachment you go to, the mission's unique," said Levendosky, who
recently came to Vance after an assignment on Guam.
Vance's OSI office primarily focuses on criminal investigations, one of
the service's four priorities. The others are detecting threats to the Air
Force, combatting computer crime and deterring fraud in Air Force
operations or programs.
OSI agents investigate mostly felonies within the Air Force, crimes like
murder, robbery, rape, drug use and drug trafficking.
"That's what differentiates us from the mission that Security Forces
have," said Levendosky. "We investigate anything that is to the level of a
OSI's jurisdiction includes anyone who falls under the Uniform Code of
Military Justice, and everyone on federal exclusive property, which
includes many areas of Vance. OSI agents have apprehension power within
the Air Force. If a civilian suspect is involved, lo-cal, state or federal
law enforcement agencies are called in.
An OSI special agent's job is obtaining, to quote the old "Dragnet" TV
show, "just the facts."
"We're not out to find guilty or innocent, we're just out to find the
facts and do what it takes to get to the facts," said Tripodi.
Once the investigation is complete, the facts are given to the Staff Judge
Advocate's office for possible prosecution.
Vance's OSI office works closely with the 71st Security Forces Squadron,
as well as local and state law enforcement agencies. An Enid Police
Department seal hangs on the wall of the OSI conference room, in fact, a
testament to the close relationship between OSI and local police.
"On a scale of one to 10, it's a 10," said Tripodi. "They are just a phone
call away whenever we need something and vice versa. As soon as they get
something that affects us, they'll call us, no matter what time of day it
is. If we have something we need their help with, we call them, and they
come right out."
Like the FBI, OSI is a crime-fighting organization. And as the FBI has its
own list of the 10 most wanted criminals in the nation, the OSI has its
own most wanted list of Air Force deserters and fugitives. Fugitives are
deserters who also are charged with a felony.
The CSI, or crime scene investigation, piece of the OSI comes through its
eight field investigation regions. The field investigation region
affiliated with Vance's OSI office, region four, is aligned with Air
Education and Training Command located at Randolph Air Force Base in San
"We have forensic support at our various regions," said Levendosky.
Each region has technical agents who possess skills such as covert audio
and video surveillance, lock picking and vehicle tracking, as well as
polygraph examiners and behavioral scientists.
"Any crimes we investigate where we need those services, it's a phone call
away," said Levendosky.
As the Secret Service helps keep the president safe, OSI provides
protective services for senior Air Force leaders, like the Secretary of
the Air Force and Air Force Chief of Staff, when they travel. During
President Bush's brief visit to Vance in May, Tripodi partnered with a
Secret Service agent and shadowed the president during his meet-and-greet
session on base.
OSI's more than 2,500 personnel include active-duty troops, as well as
members of the Air Force Reserve and civilians. Of those, nearly 2,000 are
agents, while the rest are support personnel. Active-duty OSI troops come
from the ranks of both officers and enlisted.
"We have a wide variety coming from all different career fields," said
OSI welcomes more than 230 new special agents each year. Recruits go
through 11 weeks of training in the Criminal Investigator Training
Program. This includes basic law enforcement training and is followed by
eight weeks of course work specific to OSI. Training takes place at the
U.S. Air Force Special Investigations Academy on the grounds of the
Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga.
Agents never wear uniforms, sticking instead to more casual attire.
"We don't wear uniforms because of the mission we're completing and the
work we do with the local and state agencies," said Levendosky.
OSI was formed in 1948 by then-Air Force Secretary Stuart Symington and
patterned after the FBI. An OSI agent alerted Gen. Douglas MacArthur about
the attack from North Korea that sparked the Korean war in 1950. Among Air
Force officers, according to OSI's Public Affairs office, OSI is the
second-most requested career field, only behind becoming a pilot.
Levendosky joined OSI because of a longtime interest in law enforcement.
"It's a career field where I feel we're making a difference, every day,"
he said. "It's a great opportunity for agents within the career field to
get involved in a lot of different areas."
It also, said Tripodi, is a job with no ordinary days.
"Every day is something different," said Tripodi. "You can't really keep a
calendar because you don't know what's going to happen. The phone could
ring right now and we'd have to go out somewhere.'
OSI special agents are deployed throughout the world, including hot spots
like Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Typically the mission over there is more of a force protection role,"
said Levendosky, "to get advanced warning of attacks."
OSI is not without its dangers. In the service's 58-year history, there
have been four agents killed. The most recent was Special Agent Rick
Ulbright, who died from wounds suffered in a rocket attack in August 2004
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