OSI: Behind the Eagle's Eye

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- A shadow stirs in a sea of cobblestone and houses as John Hancock steps out into the cold, winter night. A breath of fog marks his presence as he pulls up the collar of his beige trench coat closer to his face. He steps out into a narrow sliver of silver moonlight and looks down the corridors to his right, then to his left.

A silent void of shadows stare back, but Hancock can't help but feel a shiver run down his spine. His trained senses detect a presence nearby, but the exact location remains dark.

Suddenly, a pair of black leather gloves grasps him tightly with an iron grip - one hand skillfully twisting his arm behind his back and the other pressing his head against the hut.

A groan of pain and shock escapes his lips as he tries to look at his captor. Hancock caught the glint of the OSI badge on his captor's suit and closes his eyes in defeated resignation.

"John Hancock," the voice breathed. "You're under arrest."


The previous paragraphs are fictional, but they represent a misconception of the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations as operating within the secrets and shadows.

The truth is far from the fictionalized entertainment that may permeate today's pop culture. OSI is a federal law-enforcement agency driven by agents who dedicate their time, efforts and lives to ensure the safety of Airmen and their families. OSI Detachment 518 serves on Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, under the supervision of its commander, Special Agent David Bethel.

Bethel said he and his team work tirelessly to seek, identify and neutralize threats to the Air Force.

"We do this because we care," Bethel said. "I can't think of anyone who's on the team who didn't sign up because they didn't want to do this - they're here because they want to make a difference and want to protect our Air Force. That's why we're here."

OSI's function at Spangdahlem revolves around felony-level crimes including drug trafficking, theft from the Air Force, espionage or other threats to the base and its population.

Despite any perceived myths surrounding OSI, the superintendent of Detachment 518, who's been working as a special agent for 10 years, explained the true nature behind their work with criminal investigations, counterintelligence and chasing drug dealers.

"Whatever you're working on, someone's waiting for answers," the superintendent said. "It takes quite a while, but we're working diligently.  It's important to put your best foot forward and find the answers because there's a commander waiting, there's a mother waiting; someone's waiting for an answer. I tell my team to get the answers for them."

The superintendent added that typical work days for agents do not have set work hours as their days can range from eight hours to 24/7.

"I need folks who have the same passion that I have to help people," the superintendent said. "There's no glamour. You don't see us on the news or on a stage.  We do get awards and decorations, but no one else usually sees that."

A special agent of the detachment, who recently joined OSI a year ago, explained that despite the hard work, the results are rewarding in and of themselves.

"It's a very challenging, but rewarding career field," the special agent said. "I joined OSI because I wanted to be out in the field and see the results of my actions and have an impact for the Air Force in a unique way. I feel like I'm accomplishing a mission."

For those interested in joining, special agents must be selected based upon competitive criteria and a rigorous interview process designed to recruit top candidates.

"It is an outstanding career field and difficult to get in, but we're always looking for great people," Bethel said. "I encourage everyone who's interested to come by and stop to talk to us and ask questions."

OSI Detachment 518 is reaching out to the rest of Spangdahlem Airmen and those at geographically separated units through informational posters, contact cards, the Eagle Eyes program and a variety of briefings.   Anyone can report suspicious or unusual activities - like being approached by individuals seeking sensitive information - or reporting of crimes, such as illegal drug activity and sexual assault.

OSI Detachment 518 is a team of not just special agents, but people who share a common desire that goes unmarked and unnoticed, because recognition and fame is a reward these men and women do not seek.  They work for a different goal and cause.

"Every day I tell my people on this team they need to make a difference," Bethel said. "When someone fears that there are criminals or terrorists out nearby, they reassure themselves in their mind that someone is doing something about it. We are part of that - every day we need to work towards making a difference and to protect people."

For more information, visit http://www.osi.af.mil/.