AFSIA marks 20 years at FLETC

  • Published
  • By Robert Vanderpool
  • OSI Command Historian

Twenty years ago this month, on Oct. 1, 2002, the Air Force Special Investigations Academy began operations at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, in Glynco, Georgia.

The history of the academy dates back more than 73 years to Jan. 24, 1949, when Brig. Gen. Joseph F. Carroll, OSI’s first commander, issued a memorandum to the Air Force Inspector General’s Office that the first class of a new OSI training school was scheduled to convene two weeks later, on Feb. 7, at the District of Columbia National Guard Armory. Per Carroll’s memorandum, the first class was “comprised of the majority of the OSI District commanders, key field grade officers from OSI Headquarters, and top-level civilian personnel of OSI.” The first class was scheduled to be five weeks in duration, with classes held daily between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., with the exception of Saturdays, when classes were from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

In his memorandum, Carroll further noted: “The curriculum to be given at the school has been prepared in such a manner that it is designed to equip each OSI Special Agent with sufficient foundation to enable him to handle investigations of a criminal, subversive, or special inquiry type, and will also cover those administrative procedures which are adaptable to a centralized investigative organization such as the OSI.”    

On Feb. 9, the Air Force Inspector’s General Office issued General Order #11 which formally established the OSI Training School. The order was dated for the establishment of the academy to have actually occurred eight days earlier on Feb. 1. Col. Sidney S. Rubenstein was named the school’s first Commandant. Rubenstein was a former Federal Bureau of Investigations and Office of Strategic Services special agent who also served as the Deputy Director of the U.S. War Crimes Commission. With 48 students, Class 49-A was the first class to graduate the OSI Training School, earning their special agent credentials on March 11, 1949. 

Subsequent academy classes were immediately lengthened to eight weeks. The initial applicants for the academy were required to be U.S. citizens, at least 21 years of age, possess a university degree, and have at least two years of qualifying experience in a military, federal, state or local law enforcement agency. The course curriculum consisted largely of information taught at the Army’s Counterintelligence Corps School, which was then further tailored to conform with OSI specific needs and regulations. Academy instructors included a mix of special agents and staff personnel from OSI headquarters that were supplemented by additional instructors detailed in from other agencies. FBI subject matter experts were also frequently relied upon as guest lecturers and instructors. In 1950, the academy moved from the armory to the Tempo U Building  at 12th Street and Constitution Avenue, also in Washington D.C.     

On June 1, 1952, the OSI Training School was redesignated as the U. S. Air Force Special Investigations School. Two months later, on Aug. 8, the academy moved yet again, this time to the Tempo E Building at 4th Street and Adams Drive, remaining in Washington D.C. The academy would stay at this location for almost the next 18 years. During the early 1950s, class lengths were extended to nine weeks and then 10 weeks in order to expand the basic course curriculum, but also to teach additional fundamentals of investigative operations. The academy was redesignated as the Air Force Special Investigations School on June 1, 1953.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the academy incorporate several new basic and advanced training programs into its course offerings. Some examples included the addition of a Special Technical Electronic and Optical Equipment Course in 1950. In 1953, the academy established an ‘on-the-job-training program’ for agent trainees while also implementing a Counterintelligence Supervisors Course. In 1954, a Polygraph Operators Refreshers Course was added. The year 1960 saw the introduction of a specialized Counterintelligence Training Course. In 1963, in direct response to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a mandatory Distinguished Visitor Protection course was added. In 1965 the academy added an OSI Staff Officers Course.  That same year the academy began deploying Mobile Training Teams, which provided instruction to military investigative and security personnel in allied countries to include Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Japan.  In 1968, the academy provided instructors for the Air Force’s Combat Security Police Intelligence School.

In May 1970, the academy moved to the Forrestal Building, on Independence Avenue in Washington, D.C., adjacent to the National Mall. Seven months later, in December 1970, Special Agent Michael Ross was selected to be the first civilian Commandant in academy history. In June 1976, the academy received accreditation from the Community College of the Air Force allowing agent trainees, for the first time ever, to earn college credits for completing the basic investigator’s course. This earned accreditation was made retroactive back to 1958. In January 1977, time at the academy for basic classes was lengthened to 12 weeks. 

In 1980, the academy name was changed yet again this time to the Air Force Special Investigations Academy. The official emblem of the academy was first approved on March 2, 1981. This was a bit of an anomaly as the academy was considered to be an informal operating location of OSI Headquarters, and was not eligible for its own emblem despite its more than 32 years of operations. 

In a letter to the Air Force emblem approval authority, Col. Richard S. Beyea Jr., then OSI’s 10th  Commander, wrote: “The Air Force Special Investigations Academy is unique in function and organizational structure. The Air Force Special Investigations Academy is professionally on par with the FBI Academy and other institutions of that caliber. The FBI Academy, as with other top line federal training facilities, proudly displays a distinctive emblem. We should do no less in the Air Force. Due to its broad functional scope, it should be eligible to proudly display a unit emblem.” 

Though it was slightly revised in 1999, the 1982 emblem is the emblem that academy still bears today. 

On Oct. 6, 1982, the academy was moved to Building 626 on Bolling Air Force Base, Washington D.C. The featured speaker for the dedication event was then Lt. Gen. (retired) Joseph F. Carroll, the man whose memorandum was responsible for the academy’s original inception. During the ceremony, OSI’s first commander commented: “There’s an old saying that the past is really a prologue, which really signifies that the past is introductory to the future. Now, some 34 years after the original establishment of OSI, the high hopes I had for the OSI training are finally achieving fruition, and, at long last, it now has a home which is truly worthy of the name academy.” On June 19, 1989, the academy achieved a significant milestone when, after more than 40 years of operations, it graduated its 10,000th special agent. 

As previously mentioned, prior to 1990 the academy existed as an informal operating location of OSI Headquarters. In its records, the Air Force Historical Research Agency refers to the academy as a ‘named activity’ going back to 1978. Prior to 1978, the Air Force Historical Research Agency has no formal records related specifically to academy operations. It was recently described by one historian there as being “off the radar” and “floating around in the periphery for many years.”  Academy history was included in OSI Headquarters history, but on paper it did not exist as a formal Air Force organization. All that changed on June 30, 1990, when the academy was formally constituted and activated as the Air Force Special Investigations Academy.

On Nov. 8, 1995, the Joseph F. Carroll Building was dedicated at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. With the opening of this new facility, the academy was moved from Bolling to Andrews, where it remained for the next seven years. Carroll passed away four years earlier but one of his sons attended the ceremony in honor of his father.

“As the home of our training academy, the activities in this building are designed to teach our OSI core values,” Brig. Gen. Robert A. Hoffman, then OSI’s 12th Commander, commented during the ceremony. “The more I focus on General Carroll’s contributions to the newly formed Air Force, the more I focus on our core values, which are always the most lasting paternal legacy. We, too, value integrity. And while some other words may be different, the meaning is the same. Instead of bravery, we say, ‘service before self,’ and instead of fidelity, we say ‘excellence in all we do.’” 

Discussions on moving the academy to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, or FLETC, began as early as the late-1980s. The conversations became more organized and resource driven as OSI progressed into the 1990s and 2000s. Following several months of study, on April 28, 2000, Brig. Gen. Francis X. Taylor, then OSI’s 13th Commander, announced the Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff of the Air Force had given their approval for the academy to be moved to FLETC. The move was directed to be completed by October 2002.

FLETC was first established in 1970 at temporary facilities in Washington, D.C., before being moved in 1975 to the site of the former Glynco Naval Air Station near Brunswick, Georgia.  FLETC’s general purpose at its establishment was to provide a central location that would standardize basic and advanced training for federal law enforcement agencies utilizing modernized training facilities and a professional staff of instructors and specialists.

The primary stated purposes for the move of the academy to FLETC were to consolidate training at a single campus that offered unique facilities, faculty, infrastructure, curriculum, and state-of-the-art equipment that would enhance training and mission capabilities; while recognizing a substantial annual cost savings through reduced per diem requirements, consolidation of academic programming, and elimination of contracted training requirements. It was also noted that four other military agencies: the Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Department of Defense; had already moved much of their law enforcement training operations to FLETC.

In a 2002 information paper, FLETC was self-described as having: “Modern and traditional facilities, such as classrooms, residence halls, recreation areas, administrative and logistical support structures, a dining hall capable of serving more than 4,000 meals a day, indoor and semi-enclosed firearms ranges, a driver training complex, a variety of physical training facilities, a 34-building practical exercise complex, a library, numerous laboratories, a computer resource center, and an on-center convenience complex that includes a barber shop, post office, laundry and dry cleaner, credit union and convenience store.”

OSI’s move to FLETC began in mid-June 2002, with the arrival of the first staff to the campus where they established office space inside a renovated “six-plex townhouse.” Over the next four months, additional staff arrived in a phased process as operations at Andrews AFB were gradually closed out. The last academy graduation at Andrews was conducted Sept. 24, 2002.  

On Oct. 1, 2002, academy headquarters was officially relocated to FLETC with a formal ribbon cutting ceremony occurring the next day. On Oct. 3, Lt. Col. Dennis Keith assumed command of the Special Investigations Academy, commenting: “I am privileged to take command of one of the oldest, most storied training institutions in the United States Air Force…The academy’s specific challenge is to prepare Air Force special agents to take their place on this great Air Force team, to understand the institution to which they belong and apply their special investigator skills in such a way to preserve the warfighter’s freedom of action.”   

The move to a new facility brought with it a change to the course curriculum and the overall length of the training program. The single 10-week Special Investigators Course was replaced by a standardized 10-week Criminal Investigative Training Program, given to all FLETC criminal investigator students, regardless of the agency they worked for. OSI students followed that up with a specialized 6-week OSI Follow-On Basic Course.

The OSI command staff at the academy consisted of a commander, deputy commander, director of training, operations superintendent, three support personnel, and an education services specialist. They were joined by eight special agents and two firing range instructors. OSI also detailed an additional eight special agents to the FLETC Staff to serve as instructors. These special agents, instructors, and specialists taught classes in security specialties, enforcement operations, physical techniques, firearms, law and behavioral sciences to FLETC students at large, regardless of their agency affiliation in programs ranging from basic to advanced training.

The first class of prospective OSI special agents to attend the academy at FLETC, Class 301, formally began their instruction on Oct. 14, 2002, with a two-day orientation program. During this program, the students received briefings on OSI’s history, organization, mission, and culture; they discussed professional ethics and expectations; and they were challenged going forward to compare and contrast the investigative mission of OSI with the other agencies represented at FLETC whom they would encounter during their training. 

Class 301 entered FLETC just 15 months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. This meant  their academy schedule consisted of six-day work weeks with sometimes 10-to-12-hour training days. This increased pace and busy schedule was a necessary result of the increased training demands that were leveled on FLETC in the post-9/11 world. 

Following the orientation, Class 301 made history by becoming the first class in OSI history to enter FLETC’s Criminal Investigative Training Program. Unlike other Criminal Investigative Training Program classes on FLETC, which usually consisted of a mix of students representing different law enforcement agencies from across the federal government, Class 301 was made up entirely of OSI students. Class 301 was a mix of officers, enlisted, and civilians. 

Basic daily attire for Class 301 during the Criminal Investigative Training Program portion of their training was the wear of military uniforms. This included the civilians whose uniforms bore the ‘DAF Civilian’ moniker. The sudden appearance of people in military dress on the FLETC campus brought with it many inquiries from other students wondering “Why the military was at FLETC?” A later change to the military uniform added navy blue ballcaps with the letters “OSI” emblazoned in yellow. This change brought with it additional inquiries of “What is OSI?” 

For the Follow-On Basic Course, the uniform shifted to shirts and khakis. This was done to more closely align with the appearance of the other agencies at FLETC. After finishing their Criminal Investigative Training Program, Class 301 began their OSI Follow-On Basic course on Dec. 30, 2002. 

The intent during that first year at FLETC was to push six classes of 48 students through the Criminal Investigative Training Program. As mentioned, Criminal Investigative Training Program classes at FLETC generally consisted of agent trainees from a variety of different agencies mingled together. OSI was granted the exception to this norm as a deliberate goal to build class cohesion, but to also minimize scheduling conflicts in the OSI specific follow-on course. 

“This is going to be a little bit different for us and we need the whole command behind us to make this successful,” Keith commented at the time. “When students work at the detachments prior to coming to the academy, we need detachment commanders, superintendents, and trainers to take that time and assist us by giving the agent trainees a perspective of what OSI is and what it isn’t. No one in OSI has attended the FLETC course followed by the OSI follow-on. The students are going to be in a different environment than what you find on an Air Force base. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, just different.”

One of the primary concerns within the command was by moving to FLETC, the academy would be folded into that organization and would cease to be a part of OSI. While FLETC became responsible for day-to-day operational authority over the students while they were on campus, Air Force and OSI standards remained in place. This was a slight change from when the academy was housed on military installations giving the academy commander complete authority. In the end, it turned out to be a negligible difference.

“There have been many misconceptions that we now belong to FLETC,” Keith continued. “That is not true. We have partnered up with FLETC to train our agents at a state-of-the-art facility. We are using their venue and their training expertise. The Criminal Investigator Training Program plus the Follow-On Basic Course equals an OSI agent. We are still the U.S. Air Force Special Investigations Academy.”

During its first full year in operations at FLETC, 72 different courses were taught at the academy to include five basic classes, falling one short of the initial goal. A little more than 1,000 personnel were trained overall during basic and advanced training classes offered throughout the year. A total of 173 new OSI special agents were credentialed beginning with the graduation of Class 301 on Feb. 13, 2003. 

Today, there are at least twelve graduates from Class 301 still serving as special agents with OSI on active duty, as reservists, and as civilians. Sadly, one member of Class 301, Special Agent Adrianna Vorderbruggen, became one of OSI’s Fallen Heroes when she was killed on Dec. 21, 2015, while serving as a detachment commander in Afghanistan. 

Since the establishment of the OSI Training School in 1949, for more than 73 years OSI has continuously operated its own training program. Linked by a common heritage with all of the schools and programs that came before it, this makes today’s Special Investigations Academy one of the oldest career field training schools in the U.S. Air Force. At FLETC since 2002, this 20-year period represents the longest the academy has served in one location in its history. The academy’s footprint was further expanded on Sept. 10, 2003, with the activation of Detachment 1 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix, New Jersey, marking the second longest tenure of an academy operation at any one location. 

Historian’s Note: Special thanks to Special Agent Jennifer Holland, the current 1811 Recruiter at OSI Headquarters and a member of Class 301, who assisted in providing additional information and photographs for this article.