A message from Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Board Member, Terri Odom:
When we raised our right hand to serve our country, we were forever changed. When you arrive at oh dark hundred to the Mepps Station to take your physical and to ship out to boot camp, you are questioning yourself. You sign paper after piece of paper. Then you arrive at the training center for boot camp after a long day of travel.
That is when the reality of the military sets in. All of a sudden everything you ever knew about life changes. Soon you are saying “Yes, sir” and “Yes, mam” and standing at attention, holding a food tray in the mess hall, afraid to blink. You quickly learn to nap while standing. Your drill Sergeant informs you in a tone you have most likely have never heard before that he is your Momma and Daddy and he will teach you how to stay alive in battle. Most civilians don’t realize that if you join the military as a cook or an artilleryman that you must all go through the same training. It is in boot camp when you first learn the true meaning of battle buddy.
When boot camp graduation arrives and you march down to the parade field with your chest stuck out with pride, that may just be the most moving accomplishment you have ever felt before. Then everyone is off to their various military specialty schools. From there to permanent party. The military is different than a civilian job in so many ways. The people you serve with soon become your surrogate family. Brother and sisterhood develops. The bonds are tight and often life long. We were always there for each other.
I often think as a survivor of MST, the hardest part was that my rapist had also been a trusted friend. I respected his military service and rank. And the lack of justice and support after my rape was more than heart breaking. It took a part of my soul. I was confused and hurt. I had given the military my all. And then I woke up and had no one to turn to. My battle buddy was long gone. I was eventually honorably discharged against my will, as so many of MST survivors were. During my fight to save my career, I kept telling myself that no matter the outcome I would devote the rest of my life to advocating for veterans, especially MST veterans. I knew my voice was not being heard while still serving on active duty.
Now almost 25 years later, it is my honor and pleasure to reach out and offer help to my fellow MST veterans. I keep my telephone on 24/7 just in case a veteran needs me at 3am. I had a very trusted friend and fellow survivor tell me, “Terri, turn your phone off at night, and rest. There are 800 numbers for veterans in crisis.” Yes, there are 800 numbers, chat rooms, emergency rooms, but just imagine if I missed that 3am phone call?” I never quit on the military. They quit on me. I never stopped being a true battle buddy. And I have received a few 3am phone calls. Sometimes just hearing a voice of another person who has marched in your boots is all you need at the moment.
Please keep in mind in May to help out a veteran. Maybe offer a ride to the VA, or just coffee. Talking to a peer about anniversary dates is sometimes very therapeutic. In closing I must remind all of my veteran brothers and sisters that my phone is always on, but please in crisis call 911 if needed. Thank you and I hope that I have stuck to my promise of helping fellow MST veterans.
Terri J. Odom
Member Congressional Veterans Panel