OSI at 75: OSI and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award

  • Published
  • By Robert Vanderpool, OSI Command Historian

In Feb. 1976, the Office of Special Investigations headquarters received notification the command had been awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, the first time OSI received this award under the designation ‘Office of Special Investigations.’

The AFOUA was established in 1954 for organizations that distinguished themselves by exceptionally meritorious service or outstanding achievement, which clearly set them above and apart from similar units. 

Approval for OSI to receive the award required a special waiver from the Air Force, since only numbered organizations were explicitly authorized for the award.  All OSI assigned districts and detachments were also included in receiving this iteration of the award. 

The award citation began: “The Air Force Office of Special Investigations distinguished itself by exceptionally meritorious service from 30 June 1973 to 30 June 1975 by providing outstanding criminal, counterintelligence, and special investigative services to all echelons of the United States Air Force.”

This time period represented OSI operations during fiscal years 1974 and 1975. 

Beginning in 1842, the U.S. government recognized fiscal years as running for the 12-month period from July to June.  In 1977, Congress changed the fiscal year to run from October to September, which is still current practice today.

During FY 1974, OSI closed 38,985 substantive criminal, counterintelligence and fraud investigations, showing an 18% increase from the previous year.  In FY 1975 OSI closed 50,740 substantive criminal, counterintelligence and fraud investigations, this time representing a 40% increase.  These figures demonstrated a substantial increase in investigative caseloads, which occurred despite an overall decrease of assigned personnel during the two-year period. 

In nominating OSI for the award, the Inspector General of the Air Force wrote: “An analogy can be drawn between a jigsaw puzzle and OSI. A single piece of a jigsaw puzzle makes no sense; however, when all the pieces are put together a recognizable image becomes apparent. Likewise, when the activities of OSI’s headquarters and field units are examined separately, no accurate evaluation can be made; however, when their activities are viewed collectively, a realistic appraisal may be made.” 

OSI has earned the AFOUA twice in its history under the ‘Office of Special Investigations’ designation.  The second award was for the period of July 1, 1980, to June 30, 1982. 

The Air Force Organizational Excellence Award was established in 1969 as a counterpart to the AFOUA, specifically to recognize the achievements and accomplishments of Air Force organizations or activities that are unnumbered, unique, and who perform functions normally accomplished by numbered wings, groups, squadrons, etc.  This award was created for those named organizations like OSI, who would otherwise not normally be eligible for the AFOUA without a waiver.  OSI has earned the Air Force Organizational Excellence Award a total of 11 times.

The governing rules covering eligibility for these awards applies not just to OSI headquarters, but also all OSI assigned organizations.  There have been several instances throughout OSI’s history where districts or detachments have been awarded the AFOUA or the AFOEA individually without OSI headquarters also receiving the same honor.  The most recent OSI organizations to receive either award in this manner were the Office of Special Projects and the Special Investigations Academy, who both earned Air Force Organizational Excellence Award for the period of Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2020.

As previously mentioned, though the ‘30 June 1973 to 30 June 1975’ award marked the first time that OSI had received the AFOUA under the ‘Office of Special Investigations’ designation, it is not the first AFOUA in OSI history.

OSI was established as a division under the Inspector General of the Air Force on Aug. 1, 1948.  First, the 11th Air Base Unit and then the 1005th Inspector General Special Investigations Unit were established to serve as administrative holding units for personnel who were based in the United States and assigned to OSI.

The 1005th was first redesignated as a squadron and then again redesignated as a group, both in 1951. The 1005th was inactivated on December 31, 1971, concurrently as OSI was officially activated as separate operating agency.

Although they were technically different organizations, OSI and the 1005th shared a direct heritage link with each other. This link was formally recognized a few years later, when on May 14, 1974, the Air Force officially bestowed the “awards, decorations, and emblems” of the 1005th Special Investigations Group to OSI. 

This action allowed OSI to retain and add the lineage and honors of the 1005th to its own, dating back to 1948. This included the ’20 November 1951 to 15 June 1956’ and ‘1 January 1963 to 31 December 1964’ AFOUAs that had been earned by the 1005th.  When put together, this gives OSI a total of four AFOUAs accredited to the organization, though only two of those were earned under the ‘Office of Special Investigations’ designation.

Historian’s Note: With the activation of the U.S. Space Force in 2019, on November 16, 2020, the Department of the Air Force renamed both awards to the Air and Space Outstanding Unit Award and Air and Space Organizational Excellence Award respectively.           

Editor’s Note: OSI at 75 is an installment of OSI’s year-long commemoration of its 75th Anniversary Year based on the theme: “Inspired By Our Past – OSI’s Future Starts Today.”