Col. Forest Singhoff, OSI’s ninth commander, dies at 94

  • Published
  • By Robert Vanderpool
  • OSI Command Historian

Retired Col. Forest Singhoff, the ninth Office of Special Investigations commander, died April 24 2022, at 94, his family announced.

Singhoff, who served as OSI’s top boss from April 1977 to May 1980, held the agency together during a time officials wanted to merge it into Air Force Security Forces and rebrand it as a “detective squad.” 

The commander not only prevented that from happening but kept the headquarters near the nation’s capital and overall champion of OSI’s successes.

“Only a few people have made OSI history like Col. Signhoff,” said Brig. Gen. Terry L. Bullard, OSI commander. “Forest exemplified service before self as well as professionalism and his unrelenting commitment to OSI is clear from his accomplishments and successes that endure to this day.” 

“Without Forest at the helm years ago, I have no doubt we would not have been as well postured for the future, and as effective for the DAF, DoD, and nation, as we are today,” Bullard added.  

A legacy remembered

Born Jan. 23 1928, in North College Hill, Ohio, less than 10 miles north of Cincinnati, Singhoff grew up in a blue-collar home during the Great Depression. He saw his father, a machinist, suffered long periods of unemployment because of the prevailing economic conditions across the country.

During World War II, while still in high school, Singhoff followed his father's path by working as a machinist during the summers and on weekends during the school year. In the years to come, Singhoff's military career would be shaped by this experience.

“When I graduated from high school, I went to work in that machine shop that summer,” Singhoff said during a 1990 interview. “It was that three months in the machine shop that convinced me I couldn’t do that the rest of my life and caused me to enlist in the Army.” 

In Sept. 1946, after 18 years in the Buckeye State, Singhoff joined the Army. His primary motivation for enlisting were the benefits afforded by the G.I. Bill, which provided tuition and a housing allowance to attend a university or trade school.

As an enlisted Soldier, Signhoff carried out a variety of duties. He began his career as an anti-artillery mechanic, then trained as a firefighter and finally became a prison guard.

Singhoff served in the Army for 18 months, all of which were spent at Fort Bliss, Texas. Following his honorable discharge in March 1948, he made use of three and a half years of G.I. Bill benefits. 

During college

After returning to Ohio, Singhoff reluctantly went back to his old job at the machine shop. But, after one month back, Signhoff was reminded of his earlier conclusion about being a machinist and found a new job. His experience driving fire trucks in the Army helped him land a job driving a concrete mixing truck for a family friend.

In Sept. 1948, he ran into an old friend who convinced him he should use his G.I. Bill benefits and go to college. The following year, Singhoff enrolled at Miami University, about 30 miles north of his hometown, in Oxford, Ohio. 

After his first year in college, Singhoff switched majors in business to political science and history. Although Singhoff thought his military days were behind him, while at Miami University, he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps program. 

“They just started the ROTC program at the university and they needed some guys with prior military experience,” Singhoff would later recall. “That extra $40 bucks a month was, man, that was a lot of money. I signed up but never had any intention of going into a military career.”

Singhoff entered ROTC, anticipating that after graduation he would serve his required military time in the reserves and then move on. He had a choice between serving with the Navy or the Air Force and opted for the latter. 

During his time in Miami, he also met his future wife, Rose Mary. The couple married during his third year of college in 1951 and in 1952 they welcomed their first child, a daughter named Victoria.

About a year later, Signhoff graduated from Miami University and commissioned into the Air Force Reserve as a second lieutenant May 30 1952. In the civilian world, he worked as an investigator with the civil service commission.  

Air Force days

Singhoff’s time as a Reservist turned out to be much shorter than he had imagined when he enrolled to ROTC. In Jan. 1953, he was called to active duty with a five-year commitment.

But Singhoff hit a roadblock. At the time of his orders, the young officer was hospitalized because of a minor medical issue, which paused his service obligations. The Air Force gave him an indefinite delay until further notice.

He then went back to his civilian job while he awaited new orders.

A few months later, he received a telegram from the Air Force informing him he was AWOL and asking why he had not reported to duty as instructed. He said he had been deferred because of a medical reason, but the Air Force said they had no record of that happening.

As a result of lengthy discussions between the Air Force officials and Singhoff, the miscommunication was recognized; the problem was resolved and he was ordered to report for duty, this time in Sept. 1953.

The Air Force would later accept responsibility for the oversight.

Singhoff arrived at Dow Air Force Base, Maine, and was assigned to a Strategic Air Command, the precursor organization to today’s Air Force Global Strike Command, as a squadron intelligence officer. However, once on the base, Singhoff learned the unit was no longer there.

The unit had been sent to Korea while he was being tracked down for allegedly being AWOL. Rather than sending Singhoff to Korea, the Air Force made him the assistant club custodian at the Officer’s Club on base.

He served in that role for several months until his unit returned from Korea and he finally joined them as the squadron intelligence officer. 

It was during his time working at the Officer’s Club that Singhoff had his first introduction to OSI. The OSI detachment commanders from Dow Air Force Base and Loring Air Force Base, Maine, would often meet there, and they established a friendship with Singhoff.

“I was at the club all the time working,” Singhoff later recalled. “I’d chat with them and we got to talking and they told me all about OSI and what they did. I got to thinking about it. It sounded like interesting work, you know, something I’d like to try.”

Joining OSI

OSI accepted Singhoff as an agent-trainee in Feb. 1955, and shortly after was sent to OSI District 22 at Sampson Air Force Base, New York.

His supervisor reported that Singhoff “applied himself diligently, learned rapidly and was well-liked by everyone.” Between June 1955 and Oct. 1955, Singhoff attended the OSI Academy and graduated with Class 55-H. 

After graduation, Singhoff’s first assignment was commanding the newly established OSI Det. 2205 at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York. As a detachment commander, Singhoff fought for supplies, finding adequate office space and trying to convince leadership they were of OSI’s value to the installation.

Under Singhoff's direction, his detachment conducted several successful criminal investigations, including identifying a culprit responsible for breaking into the base commander's office. The detachment earned the leadership's support, thus proving OSI's value.

In addition, Singhoff oversaw the detachment move into a new building Signhoff later called, “a good office which was fixed up and made into a real nice place,” he said.

“Forest Singhoff first demonstrated to all of us that the OSI is not composed of officers and noncommissioned officers but of gentlemen, skilled in their field, who transcend military rank and deserve to be called Special Agents,” an FBI agent who worked with Singhoff at Plattsburgh AFB, New York, later penned.

Through the ranks

From June 1956 to June 1959, Singhoff served as a Special Agent and later served as chief of the Counterintelligence Division for the 6001st Special Investigations Squadron at Andersen AFB, Guam.

During the summer of 1956, his son, Scott, was born, followed in early 1959 by a second daughter, Lorraine.

While in Guam, Singhoff got a regular commission in the Air Force, realizing that perhaps OSI is a military career path worth pursuing.

Then in 1959, Singhoff was assigned to OSI headquarters, then in Washington, D.C.

At the nation’s capital, he served as a case supervisor with the Internal Security Branch in the Counterintelligence Division. Singhoff was also responsible for overseeing a special personnel security investigation involving Deke Slayton, an Air Force pilot and one of NASA’s first space travelers.

The investigation was ordered by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, who wanted to learn why Slayton was barred from flying into space because of a medical condition but could fly for the Air Force until he was named one of the Mercury 7 Astronauts.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of Oct. 1962, Singhoff deployed to Warner-Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, where he commanded OSI’s 24-hour counterintelligence command post, which was temporarily based there.

In Jan. 1963, a fourth child, Mary, was born.

A few months later, Singhoff was assigned as the chief of the counterintelligence division at District 62 Headquarters, near London, England.

“This was my first real experience with foreign liaison and national level investigative coordination and cooperation,” Singhoff later recalled, thinking back to his time in England. “It was a [really] good assignment and we were able to do a lot in the counterintelligence area,” he added.

Then in July 1967, Signhoff returned to Washington, D.C., again, this time to serve as the U.S. Air Forces Europe Section of the Acquisitions and Analysis Division chief at OSI headquarters. A year later, Signhoff helped repatriate Air Force pilots who had been held as prisoners-of-war by the North Vietnamese.

In Feb. 1971, Singhoff was assigned as the chief of the counterintelligence for District 46 Headquarters, near Tokyo, Japan. The move would later be considered his favorite assignment, not only for the work he performed but also for the mutual respect he had for the people he worked with.

“I can’t recall ever having met a man who worked harder, was more dedicated, or a better officer,” a Special Agent who worked under Singhoff in Japan later recalled. “I remember him as a friendly, soft-spoken and quiet man with a dry sense of humor. One who was a listener rather than a talker.” 

In June 1973, Singhoff was promoted to colonel and was appointed to be District 46 commander. However, he never assumed command there, instead he was transferred to command District 42, based at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.

Singhoff remained in the Philippines until July 1975, when he returned to Washington, D.C., to serve as the counterintelligence director at OSI headquarters.

A lasting legacy

Singhoff is probably best known for his role as OSI's commander. On April 13 1977, Singhoff assumed command of the organization, and became the ninth commander in its history.

During his tenure as OSI commander, Singhoff, along with all the other difficulties a commander of such a large and diverse organization would face, took on three major issues which helped define his legacy as commander.

One of them involved not moving OSI headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Singhoff also prevented OSI from merging with Air Force Security Forces and being rebranded as a “Detective Squad.”

“The brunt of the attack to move OSI to fell upon Col. Singhoff,” Singhoff’s former executive officer recalled. “One of the Inspector General’s ideas was [to] move OSI and the Security Police to New Mexico and then combine them.”

“It would have been a law enforcement outfit like a police department, with OSI becoming the detectives,” they added. “Col. Singhoff stood his ground. He is the one primary reason OSI remains with its present mission today, along with its other national sister investigative units.”

His third command priority involved making OSI operations and accomplishments more visible and open to help combat negative perceptions of the organization by the Air Force community. By doing so, the first two topics were successfully prevented from becoming reality.

Singhoff also championed the effort to keep OSI as a neutral investigative agency, despite some planning by then-Air Staff senior leaders to move OSI units directly under the control of the Air Force commanders they primarily served. 

“Without Col. Singhoff’s tenacious perseverance, the traditional OSI mission could have easily been garnered by other Air Staff elements,” another former executive officer recalled. “More often than not, Col. Singhoff was pitted against two-star and three-star antagonists for most of his three-year tenure.”

“In this internal and hostile environment, Col. Singhoff remained a staunch supporter of his field commanders and dedicated OSI efforts to support the grassroots Air Force throughout the command,” they added. “I will forever respect and admire Col. Singhoff for his officership qualities of selflessness, integrity under stress and personal sacrifice.”

Singhoff was also a firm advocate for returning the OSI commander to the rank of a general officer. Both he and his predecessor served as OSI commander at the rank of colonel. All their successors have been general officers since his efforts.

During his tenure as commander, other OSI historical events happened, like becoming the first law enforcement agency in the world to establish a unit dedicated solely to investigating computer-related crimes, the sudden withdrawal of all OSI personnel from Iran because of the Iranian Revolution, and the move of OSI headquarters from the downtown Washington, D.C., to nearby Bolling AFB, to keep it in the national capital region. 

Under his leadership, OSI was also awarded the Air Force Organizational Excellence Award for the period July 1 1978, to June 30 1979,.

Singhoff remained in command of OSI until June 1 1980, when he retired from active duty after over 30 years of service. At the time of his retirement, Singhoff’s awards and decorations included the Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the National Defense Service Medal, and the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement. 

Following his retirement from the Air Force, Singhoff worked with the Agency for International Development as a deputy and as an assistant inspector general for investigations. He later served multiple roles with the Intelligence Community Staff Agency, a former support organization to the Director of National Intelligence.

“The entire OSI Family is saddened at the passing of Col. Signhoff,” Bullard said. “While in command of OSI, he ensured future generations of Special Agents would continue the mission he took on, as evidenced by the results.” 

“Our thoughts are with his friends and family during this difficult time,” he said.