OSI at 75: The History and Essence of the OSI Badge

  • Published
  • By Robert Vanderpool
  • OSI Command Historian

The Office of Special Investigations badge was designed by Captain Robert H. Ray in 1948. Ray, who was serving as the Chief of OSI’s Criminal Investigations Division at the time, was a former Army Counter Investigations Division special agent and a former Connecticut State Trooper. 

Ray was tasked by General Joseph F. Carroll, OSI’s first commander, to design a badge for the identification of OSI’s agents. He based his ideas for a badge design on his personal observations of badges he had seen throughout his law enforcement career, while also leaning heavily on the design of the badge he formerly carried as a Connecticut State Trooper. Ray, a veteran of World War II who entered the Army in 1942, served with OSI between 1948 and 1957, retiring from the Air Force in 1965. The badge he designed for OSI in 1948 remains unchanged today.

On March 24, 1994, Special Agent Timothy Deerr, who would go on to serve between 1996 and 2001 as the second Executive Director in OSI history, gave the following speech to the members of Special Investigations Academy Class 94-B at their graduation ceremony describing his thoughts on the essence of the OSI badge:

“Nearly 45 years ago, a young officer by the name of Robert Ray, a Captain assigned to the headquarters of the newly created Office of Special Investigations, was asked by General Joe Carroll, OSI’s first Commander, to design a badge to be carried by the Agents assigned to the OSI.

“After studying existing badges and researching the heraldry associated with various representative devices, he produced the noble design which you can find prominently featured on tonight’s program. The badge eventually struck from Ray’s design would be carried by every Special Agent who subsequently served in OSI - over 10,000 strong from the original cadre in 1948 to this, the class of 94-B.

“Over time, the badge has become the insignia most closely associated with our profession as Special Agents. It is a symbol of membership in an honorable group - a membership that carries with it as much responsibility as it bestows. But symbols without an understanding and appreciation for the underlying values and ideals they represent can be empty and meaningless. It behooves us, therefore - all of us, both the veteran Agent and the newly-designated - to spend a few minutes tonight revisiting the qualities of Ray’s design - what they have meant through the years, and what they must continue to mean to us in the years to come.

“One of the most prominent features of the OSI badge is its color and brilliance - gold, the color, precious metal, of something universally acknowledged as having significant value - the metal traditionally associated as belonging to the best in the field - a color particularly appropriate as OSI strives to be the premier investigative agency of its kind. No, silver would not do for this organization in 1948, nor will it do in 1994. Gold - first and foremost; gold would he the color of the new OSI badge.

“The lettering is boldly stamped in a blue - blue, the color in heraldry associated with “constancy of purpose” as well as “justice.” The color, also, of the sky, the domain of the service which we serve.

“Badges can be made in a variety of shapes, and the shape of the OSI badge - a shield - delivers a powerful message. In its essence, OSI exists to protect the integrity of the Air Force. Appropriately, the Air Force’s own insignia is found at the center of our badge, protected by two unbroken, concentric circles. The innermost circle contains the name of the protective organization itself, OSI, and the outermost circle emblazoned with two simple, yet ‘powerful words – Special Agent – the person who carries the shield to protect the Air Force and the values it represents.

“Two simple words - Special and Agent. The word “agent” has a variety of meanings: a means of doing something; a force or substance that brings about change; the representative of an authority - all words that suggest a degree of power of influence that borrows on a greater authority. Such power is not lightly granted, and it is a power that is mitigated by the word “special,” for it does require a “special” degree of understanding, of responsibility, of discretion on when to exercise that power for the common good, without infringing on the individual rights of all concerned.

“Surmounting these words is the eagle, honored symbol of the nation, it’s lofty ideals and noble values. But note the position of the wings – not outmatched in the traditional mode steady to take flight, but spread in a protective stance, as if guarding its young against the dangers of the wild and shielding them against the base forces of nature. You too, may be called upon to protect the Air Force against the baser forms of human nature, and like the eagle, be ever vigilant against those forces which threaten the integrity of Air Force life.

“At the edges of the badge, we find the laurel wreath, throughout history the traditional award given the conquering hero, the one who had represented the city, state, country, or empire well. How well will you wear the crown of honor?

“Finally, we come to the least visually interesting, but perhaps the most important feature of the entire badge - a small, relatively plain rectangle on which the entire badge rests. On that rectangle is engraved a number - your number - the feature that will forever identify the badge with you and you with the badge. But, keep in mind, that number is not uniquely yours. True, only you will carry a badge with that number, but that badge has been carried before by another agent you see, OSI doesn’t issue a new badge to each of its new agents. We carry the same badge today that our predecessors did, and when the time comes to turn in that badge at the end of our career, we do so with the knowledge that that badge will continue in service to the Air Force.

“You may never know the identities of the agents who have carried your badge, but you will know something about them. Those agents were charged with the same responsibility with which General Hoffman will shortly charge you. To a greater or lesser degree, those agents added a legacy to the heritage of that badge. Each badge has a story - the story of each man or woman who has carried it. You have the opportunity to add your chapter to that heritage. None of you know tonight what that chapter will say in its entirety. Perhaps a story of heroism, perhaps a story of the triumph of justice, perhaps just the story of hard work performed in a competent and professional manner. But all of you tonight can commit yourself to ensuring that chapter is one of honor, in the best tradition of those who have gone before you.

“The badge you receive tonight is shiny and bright, but without periodic attention and occasional polishing to restore its luster, it can become tarnished so too can your careers. We have been entrusted something extremely valuable – occasionally remind yourself of that – when necessary, restore the “‘luster” of your profession by renewing your appreciation for the badge you carry and what it represents.

“None of you tonight will leave here “owning” a badge. In a sense, the badge owns you. You have been given custody of it, nothing more. There is a passage in the Bible that goes: ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ Much is expected of you as Special Agents of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. I trust each of you has the full realization of that covenant, and that someday, when your chapter is written, it will bring honor to the heritage of the badge you carry.”

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.”