QUANTICO, Va. --
When she enlisted in the Air Force in 1993 her modest goals were to provide for her family and finish her education.
Twenty five years later she finds herself in the prestigious position of 16th Command Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
By her own admission, it’s been an improbable journey to say the least.
“I had no idea how long I’d be in or where this journey would take me,” said Chief Master Sgt. Karen F. Beirne-Flint, after her recent selection as AFOSI’s top enlisted troop. “Never in a million years did I think I’d be here. I never thought I’d make Chief, never mind Command Chief. My focus was my family, my education and do the best job I could for the organization and my team.”
That recipe for success earned the Bloomingdale, New Jersey native the confidence of AFOSI leadership in her ability to serve as the senior advisor to the Commander on matters concerning force utilization, readiness, training, career progression and quality of life in the command.
“With an extensive and diverse Air Force career spanning over 24 years, 13 of which with OSI, Chief Beirne-Flint brings a wealth of experience and leadership necessary for this important position,” wrote Col. Kirk B. Stabler, OSI Commander, in an Oct. 27, 2017 command-wide email. “I’m positive she will continue to serve tirelessly for our enlisted force as an advocate for our Airmen and families.”
The Chief brings life experiences that have prepared her well as an advocate for the OSI enlisted force.
“I’m married to an Airman (Shane, a retired Command Chief Master Sgt.) and raised four children who have given me three beautiful grandchildren, so I’m intimately familiar with the struggle between work and family,” Beirne-Flint said. “I bring proof this can all be done. Most importantly I bring lessons learned: my successes, my failures, what I know and what I learn from Airmen around me. I bring all my energy to ensure everything I do from this point will make a positive impact for an organization that deserves the best.”
Speaking of best, her Air Force achievements include being a two-time recipient of the John L. Levitow Award for outstanding leadership and scholastic qualities (1998 in Airman Leadership School and 2005 at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy), and in 2010 she was a Distinguished Graduate at the Navy Senior Enlisted Academy. Her resume also includes duties as an orderly room information manager, an Airman Leadership School instructor, a case agent, a protective service advisor, a flight chief and multiple assignments as an OSI superintendent.
Prior to assuming her current position, she was dual-hatted as the Superintendent, AFOSI 7th Field Investigations Region, Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Investigations Operations and Collections Nexus, Quantico, Va. She’s keenly aware of what it means to now be part of the Command Chief legacy in this organization.
“I’m extremely proud to be part of OSI’s Command Chief legacy,” Beirne-Flint said. “This is an awesome responsibility requiring a lot of hard work to ensure the well-being of our force and the continued development of our Command. I’m determined to turn the legacy over to the next Command Chief with as much prestige as I received it.”
She becomes only the second female to hold the position in the nearly 70 year history of OSI. Chief Master Sgt. Frances Lynne (Shell) McCormick was the first from 2002-2006.
“I’m an Airman who happens to be female,” Beirne-Flint said. “I’m here to serve as an Air Force member privileged to conduct my service with OSI among so many inspirational women and men.”
Her OSI family stands out as people who exhibit professionalism, commitment, compassion and more.
“What impresses me most about our Airmen is their ingenuity, dedication and constant ability to get things done despite their environmental challenges,” she said. “We’re in a tough business that requires integrity, strength, resilience and diligence. OSI Airmen come through every time, in the face of the sacrifice, long hours and sometimes not so nice circumstances. They are my heroes.”
Reflecting on her OSI career to this point, Beirne-Flint candidly says two factors prepared her to tackle every leadership role along the way: her mistakes and her leaders.
“I’ve learned more from my failures than I ever did from my successes,” she said. “Screwing up a source meet, overlooking key information in a report of investigation, making a bad call on a personnel issue or falling flat in a briefing, I hate failing. No one likes to look bad, but every challenge led to learning, adjusting and improving. Without taking these risks, I would have never grown…I’m still growing.
“I’ve had my share of both inspirational and poor leaders. I built on what worked and didn’t work for them, noting the impact they all had on the team,” Beirne-Flint said. “I knew what kind of leader I wanted to be and was able to learn from all my supervisors, superintendents, directors of operations and commanders. Some key tools that contributed to their effective leadership were listening, knowing your Airmen, capitalizing on all your talent and understanding yourself. I’m still a work in progress, I’ll never stop striving to be better.”
The new Command Chief’s vector for the command echoes the Command’s vision of: A trusted and relevant global investigative agency, synchronized with a strategic environment. A reliable and indispensable partner, recognized for excellence, enabling and protecting the Air Force for the 21st Century.
Command Chief Beirne-Flint sees her two priorities in furthering that vision are recruiting and deliberate development.
“I want to stabilize our manning and ensure we’re recruiting the right people in the right places. For the health and wellbeing of this Command, we need to recruit talented Airmen, in all job series, and fill every seat at FLETC (the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center),” she wrote in a command-wide email Jan. 17, 2018. “I’ve felt the effects of being undermanned for several years and while some argue this is a retention issue, the numbers point to recruiting.”
“I’ll also work to cultivate a culture of deliberately developing our Airmen. We spend a lot of time training them, but how consistent are we in operationalizing it,” she said. “Our Airmen are the weapon system the Air Force depends on to Fly, Fight and Win. They need the tools to operate, recuperate, rejuvenate and develop personally and professionally so they can step into new positions with confidence. They should not have to figure it out on their own once they become a boss. After all, we’ve been doing this for 70 years!”
In that same Jan. 17, 2018, email Command Chief Beirne-Flint wrote in part, “Everything we do in AFOSI touches someone’s life. We can never become complacent, never stop growing. We are vital to the success of our Air Force! I’m excited to witness the amazing things you accomplish and advocate for you.”