ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Oklahoma --
They collect information, detect problems with investigations and help protect against crimes by searching for the truth. When all is said and done, they pass everything along to the inspector general, wing commander and wing staff judge advocates to take appropriate actions against an alleged perpetrator.
The Office of Special Investigations is the Air Force agency in charge of felony, fraud, sexual assault, counterintelligence and other investigations that have the potential for legal action. As a tenant unit on installations, OSI does not work for any unit or wing commander. Instead, they work for the Inspector General of the Air Force. OSI draws its pool of agents from active-duty members and civilians in the U.S. Air Force.
“We hire civilians, officers and enlisted,” said Special Agent Christopher Spangler, OSI special agent in charge of Detachment 422. “We are looking for anyone who can be a help to the team. Right now, I am not turning away anybody who is interested.”
Typically, once an Airman joins OSI, they are sent to a new duty location to start their career. An OSI unit is located at or near every Air Force installation across the entire country. OSI units serve as the top investigators for the U.S. Air Force, forming a protective net around the United States.
“I was prior security forces and I conducted investigations,” said Spangler. “OSI took on all of the unique investigations. When I had an opportunity to work with OSI, I was intrigued by what they did, their professionalism and the opportunities they offered.”
Today, Spangler has served more than 10 years as a professional agent. However, he wouldn’t be where he is today without the training he received upon first entering OSI.
“They taught us how to shoot, drive at high speeds and other high-dynamic training,” said Spangler. “They also teach you interview training and how the human mind and psyche work.”
OSI investigations begin with an allegation: a claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal. A crime is reported to OSI by various means (security forces, witness, victim, ect.), leading them to look at the circumstances, people and places involved with the allegation.
“It’s our job to determine if the event did or did not occur,” said Spangler. “We interview the alleged victim of the crime and witnesses, collect physical evidence, conduct crime scene searches and talk to the accused. Upon compiling the data and information, we see if it supports the initial allegation. The information is then delivered to the squadron commanders, wing commander and the wing staff judge advocate to make a decision.”
In order to determine if the crime occurred, OSI uses a variety of methods to support their investigations. One of the possible avenues is interviewing witnesses, victims and suspects. However, cooperation with an ongoing investigation is not always easy to obtain.
Public trust and cooperation can be difficult for OSI to secure, said Spangler. OSI is an investigative, fact-finding Agency, rather than a convicting or sentencing organization. “If someone gets in trouble as a result of our investigation, it’s because of something that a person did before we got involved. We’re merely dedicated to uncovering the facts to show if the accusation is valid.”
People can be challenging, Spangler says. However, collecting and logging evidence can be the most taxing part of the job, particularly when the case involves something emotionally distressing subject matter.
“The hardest investigations I’ve run, have been child sexual abuse cases,” said Spangler. “The things you have to discuss and see in child pornography investigations are disgusting. You can’t unsee those things either; they stay with you.”
Dealing with crime is an integral but demanding part of the job. A life in OSI means potentially seeing atrocious things. Due to the multiple challenges of the job, OSI has tools in place to assist their agents in being mentally strong and fit warriors.
“We have psychologists on our team and there is a chaplain usually assigned to us as well,” said Spangler. “If you go to a crime scene and see something traumatic, we have those resources available, giving agents the option to reach out to and receive help. I’ve known several agents who have taken advantage of the assistance and there is never punitive action for that.”
No matter how hard it gets at times, Spangler says that he would never trade in the chance to do it again, citing OSI as the best career in the Air Force.
“The best parts of my job are finding justice for people, discovering that there is a true victim of a crime and corroborating that to the action authority,” said Spangler. “Being able to provide the action authority the information to seek a prosecution for that individual and holding them accountable for their actions is equally rewarding. Gather enough information to prove an allegation exonerates an innocent from a crime they didn’t commit.”
OSI has a vast investigative capability; one of several specialties pertaining to it. Along with counterintelligence, polygraph administrators and several other specialties, OSI continues to prove itself vital to the mission capability of the Air Force.
An OSI agent is a permanent member of their staff, complete with retraining and a different job identification code. Becoming an agent consists ofretraining into the OSI career field, in addition to the at their technical training school instruction. OSI
offers a work-training option, for those interested in OSI, but not fully sure if they would like to go through the process.
“In addition to OSI agents, a uniformed Airmen can be assigned to us for a temporary controlled tour,” said Spangler. “Therefore, if someone doesn’t want to be an agent but want to support OSI, develop a different skillset, or a different breath of experience, we have that as well.”
What does it take to be a successful OSI agent? Is it the love for the investigation? A dedication to clearing someone’s name or providing enough evidence that a prosecution is able to be made? According to Spangler, it’s simple.
“Someone who has integrity, above all, would be a great agent,” said Spangler. “People think OSI is looking for a certain stereotype and that’s not true. Our agent population is filled with people from diverse backgrounds. We have prior aviators, civil engineers, munitions, but ultimately, I think integrity is huge. That’s something they can’t forgo. If someone has integrity, they’re going to run an unbiased investigation; they’re not going to be influenced by outside factors.”