OSI: an unclassified look

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Special agents walk among us, trained to track down criminals, perform counterintelligence operations, and seek out threats of terrorism to the world.

No, they're not part of a secret spy organization. They are agents of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. These agents are highly trained and dedicated individuals tasked with the defense and protection of Air Force personnel and resources.

OSI is responsible for investigating and handling felony-level crimes impacting the Air Force. It was modeled to function in the capacity of the FBI, but tailored to the Air Force's needs.

The OSI branch at Sheppard is no exception to this mission. Sheppard OSI agents mainly work on cases involving drugs, sexual assault and, most frequently, alcohol-related offenses. OSI provides a vital communication link between the involved parties.

"(OSI) allows that commander to work with the legal office," said Special Agent Amy Bumgarner, Sheppard's OSI commander.

While the majority of investigations are for these crimes, OSI is also responsible for more threatening operations, including fraud and counterintelligence. OSI thus plays a key role in the direct defense of terrorism and crime.

With such a far-reaching mission, it requires significant training to be an OSI agent. Entry-level training begins at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga., where the students take an 11-week course with other law enforcement agency students. This is followed by six weeks of Air Force OSI-specific training. The training covers many different topics including training in firearms, forensics, surveillance, interrogations and military law.

Deployments throw OSI agents into a new role vital to the Global War on Terrorism. Agents are responsible for traveling to villages to seek out information from the local population.

"Ninety percent of our job is talking to people," said Special Agent Bumgarner. "(Agents are) out, meeting with sources, gathering data on possible attacks."

Agents not only seek out possible attacks; they also gather information on the general feelings of the populace regarding the military and their impact. The danger of this mission is highlighted by the recent deaths of two OSI agents in Iraq while traveling in a convoy.

With such a diverse mission, OSI agents recognize a significant difference in life as a special agent compared to the atmosphere in the rest of the Air Force. It is typical for agents to come to work in civilian clothes, and for enlisted personnel to work alongside officers with no special deference paid due to rank.

"We still have a certain structure, but essentially we're all agents doing the same job," said Special Agent Mary Woolf. Though her hair and jewelry are within military regulations, she greets her workday in a sleeveless blouse and slacks, and coworkers refer to her as "Miss Woolf" as often as "Ma'am."

"This is a small office with a close-knit group, isolated in a sense from the rest of the Air Force because our job demands it. I know how the Air Force works, but OSI agents just have a somewhat different experience," she said.

Despite the different climate, OSI remains a critical defense for Air Force and U.S. operations. For more information, visit www.osi.andrews.af.mil