From Texas lawman to Pentagon strategist, SA shares story

  • Published
  • By Thomas Brading
  • OSI Public Affairs

Special Agent Travis Gilliam’s career is a tale of two Arlingtons: from tackling gang violence in the streets of Texas, to safeguarding national secrets in the Pentagon in Virginia. 

His path reflects a transition from local law enforcement to the upper echelons of national security. “This career is my lifelong commitment to justice at every level,” he said. 

Now, as the Deputy Director for Global Counterintelligence and Special Access Programs, Gilliam stands at the forefront of protecting America's most guarded secrets. But his story began a stone’s throw away at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he earned his Bachelor of Business Administration. 

This degree was the foundation he built his career in law enforcement on, though it initially led him to the corporate world. Despite a promising start in business, Gilliam felt a persistent calling towards law enforcement. 

"I was drawn to something more adventurous than business-to-business sales," he said. This pull eventually became irresistible, leading him back to his true passion: law enforcement.

Lone star law enforcement

Following his heart, Gilliam redirected his career path, trading in his business suit for the badge of a patrol officer in Arlington, Texas. "It was more about fulfilling a lifelong dream," he said on this change.

This shift also marked the beginning of Gilliam's ascent in law enforcement. In Texas, he quickly progressed from being a patrol officer to a detective in the Gang and Robbery Investigations Unit.

"My law enforcement career kicked off in the East District of Arlington, Texas," Gilliam said. "Those days were bustling and exhilarating, patrolling a beat with the highest crime rate in the city and one of the highest crime rates in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, "

In this role, Gilliam's expertise was vital – not only because of his knowledge of criminal street gangs but his commitment to community policing. "My focus was on gangs, which were often intertwined with a range of criminal activities in this economically challenged part of Arlington. I felt compelled to make a positive impact and help the residents of East Arlington, so they would not have to endure the impacts of criminal activity and gang violence," he said. 

Gilliam's effort and passion as a patrol officer eventually led to his selection as a detective. Gilliam. His work prioritized neutralizing criminal street gangs and robberies; but he also tackled everything from homicides to drug-related crimes. "Gangs were a significant driver of crime in Arlington District, and I had the opportunity to work with internal units as well other law enforcement agencies" he said, highlighting his role in addressing these critical issues.

He recalled a particularly impactful summer: "We faced a series of armed robberies and kidnappings which we believed were being committed by gang members,” he said. “The breakthrough came when an assailant was shot during an attempted robbery.”

“My investigation led to the discovery that the crime spree was the gang initiation for young gang members, at the direction of a known gang leader who had plagued the community for years,” he continued. “The investigation led to a successful prosecution and multiple convictions. Putting the gang leader behind bars was a major win for the community and city."

Gilliam also stressed the importance of accurate justice. "I attended an 'Actual Innocence' seminar that changed my approach to investigations. I implemented the strategies and shared the methods and outcomes with the department, which positively impacted how we conducted investigations moving forward. Specifically, I had the privilege to led investigations that resulted in clearing four people who were wrongly accused, affirming their innocence," he said. 

This extensive local law enforcement experience laid the groundwork for Gilliam's eventual move to a wider platform.

On the federal stage

In 2013, Gilliam made a significant leap, transitioning from local gang-related crimes in Texas, to tackling global security threats with OSI. For Gilliam, this shift maintained the same foundational principles. 

"The tactical skills and the ability to read dangerous situations I honed on the streets of Arlington were vital in my counterintelligence and security work at OSI," he said. "While the intensity and stakes were higher, the core of my approach – to understand, outthink and outmaneuver criminal elements – remained the same.”

Gilliam's mentorship in Texas did more than guide his early career; it formed the basis of his leadership and collaborative approach at OSI. 

"The lessons in teamwork, integrity, and resilience from my Arlington [Texas] mentors were integral to my role at OSI," he said. This mentorship was crucial as he navigated the cultural shift from local to federal law enforcement, helping him adapt and thrive at OSI.

Joining OSI marked a pivotal transition for Gilliam, bringing new challenges and opportunities. He joined OSI with the aim of applying his law enforcement experience on a global scale, particularly in conflict zones. 

"Gilliam brought a vast amount of experience with him when he joined OSI," said Special Agent Mike Christmas, OSI Special Projects Director of Operations. "His deep knowledge and unwavering determination have been instrumental in representing OSI across various government levels and with international partners."

New OSI chapter 

At OSI, he quickly realized how crucial his ability to connect seemingly unrelated dots were – a skill he had refined in Texas. "This ability became critical in predicting and thwarting threats at OSI," he said. 

His background in dealing with local crimes provided him with a unique lens to view and address global security issues, significantly contributing to OSI's strategic operations. Gilliam's first role at OSI was with the 9th Field Investigations Squadron, where he learned a lot about mentorship. 

“Mentorship is crucial for the growth and development of our personnel,” Christmas said. “It fosters direct communication, self-awareness, exposure to diverse perspectives and overall job satisfaction."

In Sept. 2019, Gilliam's career took him back to Washington, D.C., but with new responsibilities. He joined OSI's Office of Special Projects, Det. 9, located at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling – not far from where he studied at Howard University. This wasn't just a return to familiar ground; it marked the beginning of successive high-responsibility assignments.

By Dec. 2020, his leadership skills led to his promotion as Division Chief and Senior Program Security Officer at Det. 11, within the same OSI Office of Special Projects. 

These roles, he said, provided oversight and leadership for all facets of counterintelligence, public affairs guidance, security operations and program protection activities for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), the nation’s only reusable spaceplane. 

“Partnering with the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office [DAF RCO] and United States Space Force was a great experience,” he said. “It’s really amazing to know I have tangibly contributed towards national defense priorities.”

This trajectory eventually led him to his current role at the Pentagon, closing out his role with the DAF RCO with the successful launch of the X-37B OTV on USSF-52. Looking to the future, Gilliam sees boundless possibilities, he said. 

Yet, he stresses his achievements are a product of strong mentorship and teamwork. "Finding a mentor and forging your own path is key in law enforcement," Gilliam said. "My journey led me to a fulfilling career beyond my expectations."