Each branch of the United States military has its own special investigative unit outside of their military police forces. According to the U.S. Air Force, the job of an Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) special agent is the second-most sought-after career path within the USAF.
Brief History of Air Force Office of Special Investigations
While the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Command enjoys a longer history that dates back to the American Civil War, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) boasts a rich investigative tradition with ties to famed FBI director J. Edgar Hoover himself.
Previously a command within the U.S. Army, the United States Air Force was created as a separate autonomous military branch in 1947. Soon after, the Air Force recognized the need for a specialized investigative unit and created AFOSI as a fully credentialed federal law enforcement agency for the purpose of filling this role.
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations was modeled after the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and the first commander of AFOSI was former FBI special agent Joseph Carroll, who had previously served as J. Edgar Hoover's assistant. Carroll was charged with developing an investigative agency that was capable of conducting thorough, professional, independent and unbiased investigations. The office was designed to be centrally controlled to avoid appearances of impropriety or undue influence among the various Air Force commands.
Since that time, AFOSI has built a reputation for thorough and professional investigations and boasts two former members of Congress as former members: Senator Arlen Specter and Representative Herbert Bateman. Proudly sharing its motto, "The Eyes of the Eagle," the office of special investigations states that its cornerstone is to "Vigorously solve crime; protect secrets; warn of threats; exploit intelligence opportunities; operate in cyber."
AFOSI is comprised of nearly 3,000 military and civilian personnel, most of whom serve as special agents. The agency is divided into 8 regions with personnel at over 220 locations around the world. Those regions exist alongside the Air Force's military commands, though they operate separately and independently from them, reporting instead to the Inspector General under the Secretary of the Air Force.
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations has a five-fold mission that includes security of technology and information; conducting and assisting in major criminal investigations involving Air Force personnel, civilians and contractors; intelligence gathering and threat assessment, mitigation and elimination; and providing special investigative services around the world to Air Force assets as well as other Department of Defense interests. Its primary function is investigations and intelligence services.
Additionally, members of the office of special investigations are battle-ready and are prepared to take an offensive role in engaging foreign enemies and those elements outside of the United States who pose threats to U.S. interests.
The bulk of the work of AFOSI special agents involves conducting investigations on major criminal offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. While military police personnel are tasked with handling minor offenses, special agents deal with major felonies such as murders, sexual batteries, robberies and drug trafficking. They also conduct internal administrative investigations and investigate instances of cheating on promotional and vocational exams within the Air Force. The office of special investigations also employs arson investigators.
As a major leader in technology innovation, the United States Air Force understandably has a vast interest in ensuring that both its technology and information is kept secure. To that end, AFOSI special agents conduct counter-terrorism operations, investigate instances of spying and espionage, and guard against illegal technology transfers to ensure that that information and technology doesn't make it into the hands of enemy interests.
As part of their vital role in information security, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations is host to the Defense Cyber Crime Center, which encompasses the Defense Computer Forensics Laboratory. Here, the Department of Defense's computer forensics investigators work to weed out cyber crimes and security threats to the entire nation's defense computer systems.
The Air Force is a large military agency and thus has an immense budget and procurement structure. The sheer size of the department and its budget make it an obvious target for financial, contractual and procurement fraud. To combat this, some special agents serve as financial investigators and forensic accountants. They work to make sure that the public trust is maintained and to protect the Air Force from fraud in its financial dealings.
The AFOSI also provides specialized services to Air Force commands and other Department of Defense interests. These services include polygraph examiners, behavioral science specialists and criminal profilers, and other experts in technology and forensics.
Because the office of special investigations has responsibilities all over the world, special agents must be willing to live and work anywhere, including in harsh and undesirable conditions. A mobility agreement is required to be signed, meaning agents agree to live and to be transferred anywhere the office deems necessary.
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations hires special agents from the ranks of active duty and reserve personnel as well as civilians. No prior law enforcement experience is required, but candidates must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree with an accumulative GPA of 2.95 or higher. Preference is given to those candidates who either have prior relevant work experience or who hold an advanced degree.
Special agents must be eligible for top secret security clearance, which means they will have to undergo an extensive background investigation. This will include a polygraph exam and a fitness for duty evaluation which may include a psychological exam. Candidates must also participate in a physical abilities test to determine their suitability for the rigors of the job.
Training for special agents is conducted at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. There, agents-in-training participate in more than 11 weeks of law enforcement training with officers from other federal law enforcement agencies. Upon completion, they then undergo and additional 6 weeks of agency-specific training. After they complete a probationary year as a special agent, they may receive additional training in one of several investigative specialties.
Chances of Getting a Job
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations claims that it hires approximately 230 new special agents each year, meaning there is ample opportunity for well-qualified candidates. It's important to understand, though, that these agents may come from within the ranks of the Air Force, and so civilian candidates will want to remain competitive by achieving excellence in their college education and keeping a clean background.
New special agents can expect to earn between $47,000 and over $80,000 per year. The large variation in salary depends on the level of education and prior experience of the candidate, which will determine what level he or she is hired at.
Is a Career a Right for You?
Working in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations presents opportunities and challenges not found within civilian law enforcement agencies. If you enjoy investigations, are willing to move and live anywhere, and appreciate the service the U.S. Air Force provides, then a job as an Air Force special agent may be the perfect criminology career for you.