The Air Force Office of Special Investigations doesn’t have a highly trained forensic expert in the basement like Abby in the hit TV series “NCIS,” but they do have something in common — uncovering the facts.
“Our job is to find the truth,” said Special Agent Robert Lee, OSI, Detachment 421 at Luke Air Force Base. “We find the facts of what happened in an incident.”
From conducting interviews and eking out the facts, OSI has a job that mingles military investigations with criminal investigations in the civilian world. In fact, the OSI team at Luke works with local law enforcement during investigations that involve civilians or military members involved in off-base crimes.
“A big part of what we do is work with other agencies,” said Special Agent Adam Kurzen, Det. 421, “be it local, federal, state agencies or law enforcement to federal and local prosecutors.”
Because of the nature of the job and the things OSI does during investigations, there have been a few misconceptions about them.
“The biggest misconception is that people don’t understand we are no different than the other units on base,” Lee said. “Our job is to help the 56th Fighter Wing get the job done. At the end of the day that is our goal and hopefully that is the impact we have.”
Det. 421 is a tenant unit and doesn’t fall under the command of the 56th Fighter Wing.
“It’s important we have an unbiased command to deal with investigations and have no undue command influence,” Lee said.
Their job is to ensure the 56th Fighter Wing can accomplish its mission and maintain good order and discipline.
“Our mission is to prove or disprove allegations,” said Special Agent Sarena Paulson, Det. 421.
People sometimes react to OSI agents like they are the characters they see on TV. Civilian investigators get the same response as well.
“In the law enforcement community it’s called the CSI effect,” Paulson said. “Many times when people interact with us they think we do everything that happens on TV and that’s not true. We don’t have Abby in the basement processing stuff for us. Most of that is just television drama.”
Many of the technical aspects seen on TV shows and the capabilities they use are resources OSI has at their disposal.
“A lot of the capabilities people see on TV do exist,” Kurzen said. “The fingerprinting, dusting for prints and analyzing DNA; we have all those capabilities.”
However, those capabilities are not at Luke. They send evidence to the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Laboratory in Forest Park, Ga.
“USACIL is our first option,” Paulson said. “There are also labs in the Phoenix area we can use if needed.”
Forensics is a small part of the job performed by OSI agents. Most of the time they are seated behind a computer or talking to people.
“Our typical day is just interviewing,” Paulson said. “In fact, a lot of our time is spent that way. It’s how we gather facts and further investigative leads. Most of our days we conduct interviews followed up by documenting and writing up reports.”
For Kurzen, working with people is the part of the job he likes best.
“I love talking to people,” he said. “I like learning about their past, what they do in the Air Force, why they joined and things like that.”
OSI agents are not to be feared, and they are not out to get people, Kurzen said. All they want is to reduce the crimes committed in and around the Air Force.
“If all the crimes go away we will step down,” he said. “We are not in it just for the fun parts that come with this job; we are here to reduce crime. All of us care about our Air Force.”