June 20, 2003

Richard Alvarez Working in Covert Circles

By John Dendy

LINTHICUM, Md. — When the son of San Marcos couple walks through the door to work, he enters a world that most people associate with cloaks and daggers, high-tech gadgets and co-workers clad in dark suits and sunglasses.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Richard B. Alvarez, son of Benito and Lupe Alvarez of San Marcos, works in covert circles with the Air force Office of Special Investigations to protect American service members during times of war and peace. It’s not exactly Men in Black or James bond, but it’s as close as the real world gets.

Alvarez is among the crime-solving special agents, technical specialists, forensic sciences consultants, polygraphists, behavioral scientists, computer-crime investigator, and undercover agents on the roster of an Air Force OSI team based near Washington, D.C. The unit is best described as the FBI, Secret Service and Interpol, all rolled into one globe-spanning, crime-fighting organization for the United States Air Force.

Sgt. Richard B. Alvarez, chief of equipment management for the OSI.

Alvarez contributes to the team’s advanced crime-fighting and security skills as the chief of equipment management for the OSI’s headquarters.

“I inventory, manage, repair and distribute specialized equipment for undercover operations worldwide,” said the 1984 graduate of San Marcos High School. “I get the agents whatever they need and get it to wherever they need it to be.”

Alvarez and the rest of the OSI team work a beat that encompasses the entire Air Force-all 700,000 uniformed service members and civilian employees scattered around the world. Their jurisdiction also includes any number of criminals, spies, or terrorists with Air Force people or resources in their sights. It’s a mammoth undertaking that requires top-notch training, non-stop investigations, endless diligence, counterintelligence work, and courtroom testimony on both the domestic and foreign fronts.

“I may not be out in the field catching the bad guys, but I know what will happen if I don’t do my job --the needed equipment will not be in place for the agents to catch the bad guys,” he said. “It takes all types of people to make this worldwide operation successful and I fell great knowing that I’m part of it.”

OSI also oversees the military’s Defense Cyber Crime Center. It’s the first place Department of Defense agencies go for surgically-precise forensic exams and retrieval of electronic evidence in support of criminal investigations and computer intrusions. The center is also involved in information assurance, enhancements of audio and video products for use as evidence, computer imaging and computer-data extraction. The center’s cyber sleuths use the latest and greatest technology to assist in solving everything from murder investigations and child pornography proliferation to unauthorized use of government computer systems and fraud.

And beyond the Washington Beltway, several of this traditionally low-key organization’s youthful-looking plainclothes gumshoes go undercover to dismantle drug rings that target Air Force personnel. Agents also hunt down Air Force fugitives —service members running from the law— and manage a tactical high-speed driving training course. What’s more, earlier this year, OSI agents entered Iraq ahead of advancing coalition troops to interrogate suspects for credible information on terrorist activity - thwarting would-be terrorists before they could hit U.S. troops.

By hiring on with this investigative community of mostly military people, Alvarez and his co-workers contribute to Air Force mission accomplishment every day.

“My most memorable moments with OSI were when a hot case came up and the guys needed large equipment shipments to be in place all over the world,” he said. “I had to make it happen in only a few days. My success was gauged by the fact that the guys didn’t know the property had only arrived hours before they got there! I also remember supporting the agents with 24-hour coverage as they combed the Pentagon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. My goal remains supporting my country and my president.”

And while Alvarez may not run into evil-doers named Goldfinger or aliens intent on taking over the world, he intends to keep doing his part to keep air Force people safe, secure and crime free.

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