It wasn't exactly the welcome he was expecting, but Special Agent Timothy Rivera said it was pretty unforgettable as he stood in line to in-process at Balad Air Base, Iraq, during his deployment in 2006.
"It was my first day, not even my first hour on the ground, and we were getting incoming mortars," he said. "Everyone with me dropped to the ground, except for the people who'd been there for a while. They just kept working. And it got that way for the rest of us, where you don't really stop what you're doing when you hear the mortars. You just keep working."
Keep working, he did. And it was because of his work while deployed and at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., his home base, that Special Agent Rivera was selected, along with four other agents from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, to represent the career field and accept the Air Force Association 2008 Team of the Year Award during a ceremony May 12 in Washington D.C.
Every year, AFA officials, working with major command-level command chief master sergeants and the office of the chief master sergeant of the Air Force, select a career field to honor. Five to seven Airmen are then selected who displayed superior technical expertise while garnering praise of their superiors for providing leadership and inspiration to others. These Airmen represent their profession during their five-day visit to the nation's capital.
"The Air Force Association is very proud to recognize the accomplishments and dedication of these special agents," said Bob Largent, AFA chairman of the board. "Even among a group of highly trained professionals, they have stood out. They are a credit to the Air Force, and we appreciate their service."
Special Agent Megan Fordham, from Hanscom AFB, Mass., believes her career field was selected for this honor because of the work they do all over the world, both in deployed locations and home stations.
"There is a lot of responsibility in our jobs, and a lot of risks," she said, referring to the deaths of five special agents killed in the line of duty while deployed in 2007 -- special agents Thomas Crowell, Nathan Schuldheiss, David Wieger, Matthew Kuglics and Ryan Balmer.
She said while the losses struck deep into the heart of the close-knit investigations community, it strengthened their resolve for their mission.
"We all understand how important our job is to the mission," she said. "While deployed, we spend a lot of our time outside the wire, engaging with the locals, trying to collect human intelligence. The reports we put together are used to help target the enemy and remove the threat, and that's very satisfying."
Whether stateside or abroad, AFOSI agents provide a professional investigative service to commanders. Their mission is to identify, exploit and neutralize criminal, terrorist and intelligence threats to the Air Force, Department of Defense and U.S. Government. This can range from fraud, waste and abuse to providing extra security to the area through programs such as Eagle Eyes.
"There is a lot about our job that people don't really know about," said Special Agent Lonnie Isaac, from Whiteman AFB, Mo. "There's a lot that people don't see. We're not about trying to get [Airmen] in trouble. There's a lot of effort, a lot of long hours put in to protecting Airmen and our assets, and it's very rewarding."
The complete list of this year's team members are:
-- Special Agent Eric Ackerstrom, Andrews AFB, Md., worked as a member of the protective services operations team supporting the Global Air Chiefs Conference, where he ensured the safety of more than 80 foreign air service chiefs of staff. He also identified a suspect in a hundred-thousand-dollar embezzlement from the Air Force chief of chaplain's government funds.
-- Special Agent Megan Fordham, Hanscom AFB, secured intelligence from detainees while deployed to Iraq. The information collected averted riots, foiled escape plots and isolated extremists within the detainee community she interviewed. The information she recovered also led to finding six caches with hundreds of homemade weapons within the detainee compound.
-- Special Agent Lonnie Isaac, Whiteman AFB, resurrected a joint drug-enforcement team partnership and revitalized drug distribution investigations. His partnerships with numerous federal, state and local agencies increased intelligence collection and sharing.
-- Special Agent Wayne Pugh, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, led the first Air Force weapons-intelligence teams in support of five Army battalions to counter improvised explosive devices in the largest operational area in Iraq. He conducted more than 250 post-blast investigations.
-- Special Agent Timothy Rivera, Los Angeles AFB, led more than 80 counterinsurgency missions in Iraq, helped capture ten weapons dealers and manufacturers and nine additional high-value targets, and seized critical caches. While in Los Angeles, he helped evaluate attempted probes of several Defense facilities in the metropolitan area.