Ret. Brig. Gen. Francis Dillon, OSI’s 11th commander, dies at 83

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  • By AFOSI Public Affairs

Retired Brig. Gen. Francis Dillon, who served as the Office of Special Investigation 11th commander, died July 6, 2023, his family confirmed. He was 83. 

Dillon who served as OSI’s top boss from Feb. 26, 1988 to April 29, 1993, led the organization through the Gulf War and a major reorganization, a structure that remains today.

Before he shaped OSI’s history, his story began in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1939. Dillon grew up in nearby Windsor, where he graduated from high school in 1957 and was a member of the basketball team, choir, band and was active in the political science club, foreshadowing the leadership he could display in the years to come. 

After high school, Dillion attended the University of Connecticut where he was a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps program rising to the cadet rank of lieutenant colonel and earning a bachelor’s degree in business. Dillion graduated in 1962 and was commissioned a second lieutenant, directly joining OSI.

“From his first assignment as a detachment commander to OSI leadership roles in West Germany, OSI headquarters and finally with his selection as the OSI commander—Brig. Gen. Dillon imprinted his legacy on our agency and all who had the honor of working alongside him,” said Col. Amy Bumgarner, OSI’s commander. “His dedication and transformative leadership shaped the very fabric of our organization and inspired a generation of OSI personnel to reach greater heights.”

Although the Gulf War and OSI’s reorganization were major events under Dillion’s leadership, his tenure was not limited to those moments alone. It encompassed equally historic events. Dillon’s time as commander witnessed pivotal moments, like the fall of the Berlin Wall, a major volcanic eruption in the Philippines which resulted in the closure of the Air Force’s oldest and largest overseas base, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the implementation of the longest humanitarian airlift in history in the Balkans and humanitarian relief operations in Somalia.

Gulf War

Four days after Iraqi forces entered Kuwait, kicking off what would become popularly known as the Gulf War, Dillion gave the order to deploy OSI forces to Saudi Arabia to provide counterintelligence support to operations in the region. 

After several years of participating in exercises and establishing contacts in Southwest Asia, Dillion later confidently boasted, “We had been in that area for years, we had people comfortable conducting operations in that region,” he said. 

Under his leadership, OSI remained steadfast in their support to deployed personnel. Dillon was responsible for overseeing the ‘Adopt-a-Det’ program which was an OSI headquarters-led initiative to provide support for deployed members. 

Under the program, various directorates within OSI headquarters volunteered to support a designated deployed detachment. OSI initiated a similar program involving the families of deployed members. 

“I got a lot of calls, letters and notes from people out in the field saying how well their families were taken care of,” he later recalled, “which I felt good about as the commander. We took care of our people.” 

"On my watch, we had the opportunity to demonstrate our wartime skills, and you came through with flying colors," Dillon penned in a final message to the command before his retirement, underscoring the profound significance of the Gulf War.

Dillon further expanded on those comments, which highlights a core capability that remains true for the OSI team. 

“Our professional capabilities are unquestionable,” he said, “and we must continue to nurture them. Our success over the years has been due to our ability to grow and seek out the new, rather than stagnate on past successes.”

As a testament to those successes, on June 24, 1992, Dillion accepted the National Intelligence Meritorious Unit Citation at Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on behalf of all OSI. 

This distinctive honor was bestowed upon OSI for “providing superior counterintelligence and antiterrorism support to Air Force elements deployed to and otherwise globally sustaining Operation DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM,” between Aug. 6, 1990, and Feb. 28, 1991.

OSI reorganization

The second most notable event under Dillion’s command was the massive reorganization that occurred within OSI from 1991 and 1992.

This effort marked the largest reorganization in OSI’s history, transforming the agency from a geographically based organization to one primarily realigned based on the needs of the Air Force’s major commands. 

Under Dillion’s leadership, OSI implemented a 5-year plan which saw the inactivation and elimination of the district offices and the activation and organization of the field investigations regions.

“To thrive in the coming years, we need to adapt to more efficient and contemporary management structures and those techniques which improve our timeliness and our quality,” he noted in a message. 

The reorganization effort began in Sept. 1991 by restructuring OSI headquarters. In mid-July 1992, a special order was issued, which authorized the deactivation of district offices and subordinate detachments, while simultaneously activated the field investigations region headquarters and subordinate detachments we have today. 

Those changes were official Oct. 1, 1992, and on that date, OSI was also reorganized from an organization with 16 district offices to an organization with 7 field investigations regions. 

“Our regions are up and running, and the ‘new’ streamlined OSI is working much as planned,” Dillon said, in 1992, looking back on the reorganization. “The field restructuring that at one time loomed as a formidable task has, in fact, been a successful endeavor which can best support the new Air Force of the 1990s.”

Dillion relinquished command of OSI on April 29, 1993, marking the end of a chapter in OSI history. Following three decades of active-duty service, he retired from both OSI and the Air Force on May 1, 1993, leaving behind a legacy of leadership and profound contributions to the nation's defense.

“As we reflect on his remarkable journey, our thoughts are with his loved ones during this time of profound loss,” Bumgarner said. “Brig. Gen. Dillon's contributions to our agency will forever resonate and leave an enduring impact on the entire OSI team, and we will hold dear the values he cherished and honor his memory with unwavering commitment."