OSI – An Immigrant’s ‘American Dream’

  • Published
  • By Wayne Amann
  • OSI Public Affairs

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in the feature series, “My OSI Journey,” highlighting the Diversity and Inclusion of the Office of Special Investigations and how its people have woven the organizational fabric of the command.    

We’ve all heard the question, “Where were you and what were you doing on 9/11?”

While the myriad of answers have become forever etched in our respective memories, it’s ironic there was, in fact, good news that happened that fateful day.

Simply ask OSI Special Agent Desiree Borg Burmeister. 

At 9 a.m., on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, she entered the United States Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, to finalize her immigration paperwork. The process is usually finished on Thursdays, but since she had tickets to travel to Houston, Texas, on Thursday, Sept. 13, embassy immigration officials made an exception in her case.

“I was so happy. I thought it was the best day of my life. I had the papers and was ready to go,” Burmeister said.

However, the day turned out to be bitter sweet for the new immigrant to the U.S.

“I remember the second plane hitting the World Trade Center,” Burmeister recalled. “I remember my mother crying and people calling me, thinking I had been on one of those lost airplanes. I remember guilt, that all of those real Americans died while I thought, momentarily, that 9/11 was the happiest day of my life.”

Burmeister travelled on Sept. 13, but got delayed in Frankfurt, Germany, before finally arriving in Houston Sept. 17. She entered the U.S., with her purple teddy bear and a brown box. She was in-processed by a senior immigration officer, who handled the paperwork and fingerprints in a quiet, meticulous and friendly manner. But, he seemed defeated, perhaps by the national tragedy six days earlier.

“He looked like someone ate his heart,” Burmeister said. “Once the process was completed, he looked straight at me and said, ‘Go make a difference.’ Looking back, those four words made a profound difference in my life. But, what does a difference look like, what is my purpose in the United States? I only knew I owed it to him, and to all the victims of 9/11, to go make a difference!”

It took Burmeister many years to figure out a path, but she knew it included a foundation of commitment, reliability, leading by example, investment in people and making the most out of what she was given.

Those traits have served her well as she nears her 20th anniversary as a U.S. citizen, fashioning a federal law enforcement career that’s making a difference. 

Following a two-year internship with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service she switched to OSI. Her five assignments as a Special Agent have seen her fill pivotal roles as a Palace Acquire Program Field Agent at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.; a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Subject Matter Expert at Kadena Air Base, Japan; and three positions at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., relating to America’s space program throughout the West Coast, including her current role as the Resident Agent In Charge, Special Projects Detachment 7, Operating Location-A.  

Her difference-making mantra earned her: 2010 NCIS Intern of the Year; 2013 OSI Junior  Civilian of the Year; and 2017 OSI Civilian Special Agent of the Year. She was promoted to GS-14 despite having less than nine years with OSI.

Along with more than 11 career-related moves, she’s balanced her time to raise three teenage children, complete two Masters Degrees, two-thirds towards a PhD in Criminal Justice and is proficient in six languages.

“I believe in possibilities and I trust every one of us has potential, purpose and are able to persevere,” SA Burmeister said. “I count on respect, communication and a positive mindset to enable our success. Trust is the heart of a cohesive team and agency. I’m thankful every day for the people on my journey who trusted and invested in me despite the setbacks, and for all of the opportunities that resulted from that trust and investment.”

Upon further reflection, she wonders who would have ever thought, that against all odds, a little girl born on a tiny island in Denmark would grow to become a very successful Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations?

“OSI became my family,” SA Burmeister said. “OSI is my American Dream.”