He may not be able to tell you if the X-Files really exist, if there are aliens in Area 51, or who shot JFK, but Trey Halterman thinks he has been successful during his 2-1/2 years as an FBI special agent.
“I’ve arrested drug dealers, protected the U.S. from people who want to cause harm to the country, assisted Hurricane Katrina victims, and managed major cases that will lead to arrests and prosecutions,” he says. “If I ever feel that I’m not performing my job successfully, I’ll walk away and find a career where I can be successful.”
Halterman, a University of Tennessee at Martin alumnus, first thought about becoming an FBI agent when he was in college. “I was told the FBI liked to hire accountants and lawyers,” he says. But it wasn’t until he completed stints as a public and corporate accountant that he seriously pursued the idea.
He’s now an FBI special agent in the Washington Field Office and conducts national–security investigations. The Washington Field Office is the agency’s second largest, behind New York, with approximately 750 of the FBI’s 12,000 special agents. Currently Halterman is the case agent for two major investigations that require coordination with six other governmental agencies.
“On any given day, I’m in direct contact with representatives from these agencies,” he says. “I have a couple of other investigations going as well, but my main focus is the two major cases.
“Lately, I’m in almost daily contact with the Department of Justice attorney. We’re reviewing evidence that has been collected to determine whether federal charges can be brought against the subjects of my investigations. The ultimate goal is an arrest and prosecution. We’re getting closer and closer every day.”
Halterman, from Maryville, Tennessee, graduated from UT Martin in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a major in accounting. While at UT Martin, he was a founding father and original member of the Tennessee Kappa Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon. He earned a master’s degree with a concentration in finance from UT Chattanooga and became a certified public accountant. But in late 2002, “I remembered that I once had the ambition to become an FBI agent. I went online and applied.”
A few months later, he took a written exam. “Somehow I passed and moved on to the next phase,” he says. Things stalled for a while but picked back up in May 2004. He completed the second phase–another written exam and a panel interview–in August 2004.
“After that, I was subjected to a background check, a medical examination, polygraph examination, and a physical fitness test.” The fitness test included sit-ups, pushups, a 300-meter sprint, and a timed 1.5-mile run. “All events are done back to back,” Halterman says. “Each event has a minimum acceptable score, and if you fail any of the four events, you’re done.”
He reported to the FBI Academy at the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Virginia, in September 2004 and remained there for 17 weeks. He recalls “grueling tests of physical and mental fitness,” including sessions of legal, firearms, and defensive-tactics training. “I had my head bashed in [boxing] and was wrapped up like a pretzel [ground fighting], pepper sprayed, and shot at close range with Simunition [soap pellets],” he says. “None of this was very fun.”
On a typical day–which Halterman says are rare–he gets to the office at 6:15 a.m. and usually doesn’t return home until 6 p.m. Occasionally he works strange hours, overnight, weekends, and holidays. “The longest span I’ve worked without stopping is about thirty-four hours.”
Halterman says two or three days a week he leaves his desk long enough for a run–to the mall area and then to the Lincoln Memorial and back–about a 4.5- or 5-mile trek. He also lifts weights a couple of days a week and saves long runs for the weekends. “Physical fitness is an absolute must in my job,” he says. “We’re expected to stay physically fit.”
Most of his work is in D.C., but there are some chances to travel. “My most memorable trip was two years ago, when I volunteered to travel to Louisiana in support of Hurricane Katrina relief,” he says. His first foreign assignment is coming up soon.
When people think of FBI agents, they sometimes imagine men in black with dark sunglasses and guns in shoulder holsters. Halterman confirms that special agents in the FBI Washington Field Office are expected to wear business attire to work every day. “We have a lot of interaction with the public, so we’re expected to dress and act professionally.
“I almost always wear a suit to work, but not all of my suits are black. The bureau has changed since the Hoover days when all special agents were expected to wear a black suit and white shirt. I do wear dark Oakley sunglasses though, and I always carry a gun [a .40 caliber Glock]. You never know when you’re going to need it.”
Just like other businesses, the FBI has its own vernacular–a jargon that’s used by the professionals. A Bucar or Buride is an FBI vehicle issued to a special agent. EC is electronic communication–the report that an agent usually writes when something needs to be documented. OPR stands for Office of Professional Responsibility–“the three letters you never want to hear mentioned after someone says your name. This usually means you’ve done something wrong when you’re told you’re being ‘OPR-ed.'”
Occasionally, Halterman is in the company of famous people, but he can’t name many names. “Last New Year’s Eve, I was in Times Square in New York City. I helped my wife’s brother [a New York Police Department officer] escort singer Toni Braxton to the stage, where she performed. She is very pretty and tiny.” Also, he met President Bush while training at the FBI academy. The president was there a month before his re-election to go for a bike ride. “When he was finished riding, he came over to the track where a few people had gathered, gave a quick speech, shook hands with every person out there, and took time to pose for pictures with small groups of people.”
Since Halterman can speak only in general terms about his work, sometimes it’s easier not to mention it. “When total strangers ask me what I do, I usually just make something up,” he admits. “I’m cordial with them, but sometimes I don’t feel like having â€˜that’ conversation. They’ll ask a million questions and won’t leave me alone. Sometimes people don’t believe me when I tell them what I do. When they do finally believe me, most of them tell me I’m the first one they’ve ever met.” Then come the questions about the X-Files, Area 51, and JFK, he says.
“It’s hard to socialize and find things to talk about with people outside of the bureau. There’s so much about my job that I can’t talk about.” Most of his work assignments he cannot discuss with anyone except those who have an assignment-related need to know.
“There are a lot of things I can’t even talk about with my wife, Sandy, and she’s a special agent in the New York office. The job is very stressful, and I’ve been put in dangerous situations. But I love my job, so it’s all worth it,” he says. “I always make sure I let my wife and other family members know when I’m doing something dangerous, and they’re my first phone call once I’m out of the dangerous situation.” That includes his mother, Judy Halterman, and stepfather, Bob Gilbert (UT alumnus, former UT employee, and longtime journalist), of Maryville, and father, S. E. Halterman Jr., of Spring, Texas.
“I intend to be a special agent for at least twenty years,” Trey Halterman says. “I’ll be eligible for retirement at age fifty, and the mandatory retirement age is fifty-seven. I’m not sure if I’ll stay until I’m fifty-seven, though. I’m also not sure what I want to do after my bureau career is over. I’m still having fun with what I’m doing, so I can’t imagine another career right now.”