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My Life, My Story: Patricia Odom

Army Veteran Patricia Odom, the first Black woman recruiter in Massachusetts. “I get all my health care at VA and I’m very happy with the service,” she said. (VA Boston HCS photo by Winfield Danielson)
Army Veteran Patricia Odom, the first Black woman recruiter in the Massachusetts Army National Guard. “I get all my health care at VA and I’m very happy with the service,” she said. (VA Boston HCS photo by Winfield Danielson)

My childhood was unique! I had the opportunity to grow up in Alabama and Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, my biological mother walked away from the family, and her family had to raise us.

I later learned that I also had an older brother from my mother, but not the same father.

I was born with a twin brother, but the family who raised me separated us, making childhood very lonely for me. Therefore, I spent my time and energy reading a lot, and drawing to be creative. The family who raised me taught me these values: to be independent, not to lean on others to make things work, to work hard, to go to school, to travel, and to learn about different cultures.

My foster father had spent time in the U.S. Navy and often talked about it. Pensacola, Fla., is a military town. Growing up there, I observed many military women and men in various uniforms. They looked so clean and sharp. In my family, there were two boys. It was during the draft, so my family made sure they prevented my brothers from joining the military by writing letters to the draft board. But I remember saying, "One day, I will go into the military, just to see how I would look in a military uniform."

As a younger person in school, my favorite subjects were English and math. After graduating from high school in Florida, I graduated in cosmetology with a trade. I received a scholarship from a sorority to attend Pensacola Junior College, but I voluntarily left school after one year. I came to Boston to live with my adult oldest brother and family. I got my first job at New England Telephone Company and worked as an operator so I could save money to attend Tennessee A & I University. The university accepted me, but I didn't have money to attend school, so I got an offer to become a flight attendant. I left Boston to live in Utica in upstate New York, for flight training with Mohawk Airlines.

Being a flight attendant was a glamorous job with lots of smiles and positiveness, even though being the only person of color was hard at first. I traveled and worked with many ethnic groups, which helped me grow. I worked in the position for two years, until the airline merged with Allegheny Airlines. So, I went to TWA in New York for an interview, and they refused to hire me for the job. Although I was disappointed then, it only made me try harder.

But wanting to join the military was always at the back of my mind. I would meet men in the military who often thought women should not join, but I wouldn't listen to them. Ultimately, I got married, became pregnant and had a son. After that, my whole world turned upside down! Unfortunately, my husband died suddenly, leaving me with a son to raise. I wanted to leave Boston, so I joined the Massachusetts Army National Guard. I joined the Guard because I wanted to stay around to raise my son. But instead, I had to leave him with his father's family to attend basic training was Columbia, South Carolina.

Two weeks into training, my twin brother, who then lived in New York City, was shot and killed. My oldest brother and I had to return to New York to identify his body and plan the funeral. After the funeral, the military stated that I could get a hardship discharge from the Army, but I wanted to stay in the military.

Once I arrived back in South Carolina to go through basic training again, I graduated and went off to AIT – advanced individual training – at Fort Sam Houston in Houston, Texas, where I graduated as a medical specialist in records. After that, I returned to Boston to my son. I reported to my unit for training, and a male recruiter saw me and asked me to apply to be a recruiter for Boston, so I did. I went for an interview and was blown entirely out of the water: I was told women weren't allowed to work as recruiters; it was all men who worked in the job. They didn't want a female, because it was a lot of responsibility with constant traveling for military training. My superiors told me to go home and have babies – this was no place for me. I insisted that they hire me and that they would never regret it. Finally, the military took a chance. I had to be cleared through the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., to ensure that I was not a risk and could be trusted with delicate and personal documents. Once I passed all the requirements, I became one of the top recruiters in Massachusetts. Working the job later opened doors for other women in that field assignment.

After several years on active duty, I recruited my second husband. Unfortunately, our eight years of marriage ended in a divorce. After the divorce, I went back to school – the military paid – and received a bachelor's and a master's in Moderate Special Needs. I worked in the Boston Public Schools for 20 years as a certified special needs teacher. Being a teacher, was delightful for me, because people were mesmerized to know that I had been in the military – including the students. The students would listen to and respect me because of my authority and positive attitude. Many women would say they wished they had taken that career path.

Since I retired, I have followed my passion as an artist. I am self-taught. I love to use watercolors, paint, draw and create beautiful paintings, make assorted cards, and sell my artwork. My one son is now an adult. He's into his second marriage, but I have three lovely grand-girls, ages 17, 16 and 8.

I am proud to say that being the first Black female recruiter in the Massachusetts Army National Guard has allowed me to become recognized with a citation from former Governor Charlie Baker and a citation from former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

My life journey has taught me a lot. I am very proud of my accomplishments.


You can also see an interview with Patricia Odom in the Boston Globe at

If you are a Veteran who receives care at VA Boston and would like to share your story with your VA healthcare team, you can contact us directly at or 857-203-4876.

To learn more about My Life, My Story at VA Boston, visit

To learn more about My Life, My Story in VA nationally, visit