Profile of Criminal Investigators - Air Force and NCIS

United States Air Force Emblem.
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Military Police (MPs) may investigate crimes at bases and installations, but some crimes require the detective's touch. Each branch of service has its methods and job designations for criminal investigations, but all are Federal law enforcement officers. In addition to investigating felonies and other major crimes involving the military at home, military criminal investigators coordinate with other Federal law enforcement agencies and even handle war crimes and anti-terrorism missions abroad.

Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI)

Like their counterparts in the Army and Marine CIDs, special investigators in the Air Force investigate major and sensitive crimes in their branch of service. Specifically, the Air Force Enlisted Classification Manual tells us that a special investigator "[c]onducts criminal, economic crime, counterintelligence, force protection, personnel suitability, computer crime, technical services investigations and special inquiries." Although the Air Force recruiting site only advertises the officers' career field, the homepage of the AFOSI assures us that there are careers in special investigations open to enlisted airmen and civilians as well.

  • Enlisted Requirements: Enlisted members who want to join AFOSI need at least a high school education, must have good written and verbal communication skills, and prove eligible for a Top Secret clearance. Also, only airmen already serving in another career field (any will do) with a rank between senior airman (E-4) and staff sergeant (E-5) and with less than ten years of service may apply. There may also be exceptions for some technical sergeants (E-6.) Those who qualify begin the process, which can last up to five months, by seeing their local AFOSI officer for an interview. Reservists ranked E-5 or E-6 may also apply for training and assignment as a special investigator.
  • Officers: Commissioned officers can apply to become special agents at the entry level while earning their brass in the Air Force Academy, Reserve Officer Training Corps, or Officer Training School. AFOSI's website even claims they'll consider applications from officers who washed out of initial training for their original job assignment, but they're not interested in retraining qualified and experienced officers from other career fields.
  • Civilians: Some AFOSI special agents are Federal civilian employees and require at least a bachelor's degree with at least a 2.95 grade point average. Law enforcement experience isn't necessary, but as with other Federal law enforcement jobs like the FBI, special skill sets can strengthen a potential agent's case, such as knowledge of a foreign language or area, accounting, or forensic science.
    • The Air Force also recruits exceptional students during college campus visits to participate in the PALACE Program, designed to provide a select few with three years of paid training as temporary AFOSI employees and, if successful, a permanent position.
  • Education: Special investigators initially train for about five months at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Gynco, Georgia. Their first 11 weeks are taken up by a general course for investigator alongside trainees from other Federal agencies, followed by eight weeks more training specifically to work in the AFOSI, which includes both classroom instruction and simulated work as a special investigator.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service

Thanks to CBS' crime procedural, NCIS is now a household name.

Unlike its sister services, the Navy's investigative arm is a strictly civilian law enforcement agency (though they value applicants with prior Navy or Marine experience.) For the full scoop on beginning a career in the NCIS, I defer to Timothy Timothy Roufa's excellent Special Agent Career Profile.

But there are a few opportunities for those currently serving to work with NCIS:

  • Marine CID Agents: Being in the same boat (get it?), the Navy and Marine Corps have coordinated their investigative efforts since 1999 by having a number of Marines in the CID work as NCIS agents. The Corps' Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) Manual states that current CID agents may request assignment, but have to be screened, interviewed, and accepted by NCIS.
  • Naval Reservists: Though there's scant information out there about it, NCIS has military, not civilian, agents in the Navy Reserve to call up in times of shortage or crisis. A 2002 Navy press release highlighted the reserve agents' role in a post-9/11 world, their unique contribution as citizen-sailors with "a vast amount of real-world experience," and the fact that NCIS reservists undergo their unique training program to earn Federal agent status. The release did not, however, make it clear whether all NCIS reservists are commissioned officers, or if enlisted may also apply, nor did it describe how to join the program.