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The Courses Our Lives Take

by Ryan Labadens, US Navy Public Affairs

Quite often our experiences and our interests work hand-in-hand to guide us along the course of our careers. Such was the case for Mona Odom when it came to her decision to apply for the school liaison officer position at Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport, Miss.

Odom, a native of Jackson, Miss., initially joined the U.S. Army Reserve as a medic in 1986 and served until 1993, when she decided to join the active-duty Army. She and her husband, who was also in the Army, had two children and relocated from base to base depending on their assignments. After Mona had her second child in 1998, she decided to end her military career and focus on completing her education in psychology.

While she and her family were at Fort Hood, Texas, Odom met someone during the course of her studies who told her about volunteering at schools through AmeriCorps, and it peaked her interest. Odom became a member and volunteered for a year alongside others, serving and supporting local schools in the surrounding Fort Hood area. She noted that her experiences volunteering with the students started leading her to consider a career in education.

“Before this I had never thought about being an educator,” said Odom. “But as I started assisting the teachers with the various tasks they assigned me, I started liking it. I started liking my interaction with the students, I started liking development – seeing the students going from this reading level to that one. I liked what I was doing, and I liked what it was accomplishing.”

After some encouragement from some of the teachers, Odom enrolled herself in an alternative teacher certification program, and after receiving her certification she was hired as a 1st-grade teacher at the school where she volunteered.

She taught there for several years, all the while knowing that her psychology interest was pulling her in another direction within the education career field: school counselor.

“At heart, I’m a counselor,” said Odom. “I like being able to empower people to help themselves. I like being able to help people discover themselves – the good, the bad and the ugly, and to take those things about themselves and make them stronger, more confident.”

She eventually returned to college to get her Master’s degree in education with counseling as a major, and she worked as both an elementary and a high school counselor before making the transition to becoming a school liaison officer for the U.S. Navy.

“It’s interesting because I understand the plight of military families – military wives and military children, especially when it comes to education,” said Odom. “And as a counselor I’ve seen things that were very unique to military families and students, so that’s how I landed here [as a school liaison officer].”

Odom moved back to her home state of Mississippi in August 2018 to accept the school liaison officer position at NCBC Gulfport.

According to Odom, the school liaison officer serves as the primary link between schools, commanders and military parents of kindergarten- to 12th-grade students.

She said they fulfill this role by providing seven core services to assist military families: school transition services; deployment support for families with military children; help in navigating the school’s special education systems; assistance with resources and support for home schooling; building education partnerships with members of the local community; assisting military families and their children with preparation for post-secondary education; and serving as the subject matter expert for connecting commands, schools and community resources.

In short, she’s there as a resource and support for military families with school-aged children to help them navigate the issues they can face both in and out of school.

Odom said moving into the school liaison officer role was very much a natural transition for her because of her desire to help children and their families, especially those dealing with the added issues inherent with military life.

“When I saw the job description, I knew I understood this position and what it was trying to accomplish – I knew who it was for,” said Mona. “Not only am I helping the school-aged students, but I feel like I’m helping the parents also – and happy parents can get the job done!”

Military members with children in kindergarten through 12th grade who would like to find out more about how the school liaison officer can assist them can contact Odom at 228-871-2117 or mona.odom@navy.mil.

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