Unconventional paths and hard work highlight my life, professionally and personally. My life started in the rural farmlands of northeast Arkansas by my “farmer” parents who valued hard work and personal sacrifice. My father could neither read nor write. As fate would try and have its way in my life, I was destined to continue the family farming tradition. However, I had two God-given callings that conquered fate – flying airplanes and practicing law.
Years later in May 1984, I felt the calling to serve my country and pursue my dreams and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Soon after, I began attending college night classes in hopes of applying for Officer Training School. In a few short years, I graduated magna cum laude from Chapman University in Orange, California, with a B.S. in electronics.
Following graduation, I applied for OTS and Undergraduate Navigator Training simultaneously and was accepted for both. I graduated from OTS in 1987 and began UNT that same year. In 1988, I graduated from UNT in the top 10% of my class and was afforded the opportunity to select the aircraft and base of my choosing. I selected Barksdale AFB in Bossier City, Louisiana. My selected squadron flew the KC-135 Stratotanker, which is a modified Boeing 707 for midair refueling of other aircraft.
In September 1990, Operation Desert Shield began, and I left my pregnant wife to serve my country. My squadron deployed to Lajes Field in Lajes, Portugal, an island in the middle of the northeastern Atlantic Ocean. We played a key role by forming a refueling “air bridge” to the Middle East during the Gulf War. In 1991, I returned stateside to see my first and only child born at the base hospital.
Once Desert Storm was over, I applied to fly the B-1B Bomber, as an offensive systems officer. So in early 1993, I pivoted my career in the Air Force and pursued this new bomber opportunity. The B-1B is a highly complex, low level, supersonic, nuclear capable bomber with advanced technology to fly behind enemy lines without easily being detected by the enemy. After a successful and rigorous yearlong training program, I was assigned in 1994 to the B-1B squadron at Dyess AFB in Abilene.
In 1999, after almost 16 years of active duty service, I pivoted my career once again and resigned my commission as a captain in the Air Force. It was now time to follow my second calling in life – practicing intellectual property/patent law. In August 1999, my family and I set out for Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, New Hampshire, my first choice for law school due to its world-renowned reputation in intellectual property and patent law.
Honor, integrity, service before self and excellence are some of the core values of military service. Thus, naturally, my military service exemplifies and was an extension of my personal core values of service and honor to my God, my family and my friends.
I enlisted out of a duty to serve my country. In doing so, I was also able to fulfil my dream of flying in the USAF. Even though many of the world conflicts that would overlap my career in the military had not begun at the time of enlistment, I knew that it would be possible that I could be called to sacrifice as many before me did.
I knew of the importance of service to country although I did not have a strong family tradition of military service before me. To me, service to my country felt like a natural progression to honor and make sacrifices just as many others did before me. Serving others has been instilled in me since my childhood by being taught to serve my God, family and others. I am grateful because such has shaped me into the person I am today, both personally and professionally as an attorney.
Looking back at my entire career, everything happened for a reason and nothing happened “by chance” and every position and experience, especially in the U.S. Air Force, played an integral role in positioning and shaping me and my legal career. From my father, I learned at an early age that hard work will always pay off, even if you don’t realize it at the time. That is so true through my career as I took the unconventional path of serving my country before focusing on my long-term career in the legal world. Sometimes we get involved with the day to day demands and stresses of work that we forget the sacrifices of people that have come before us in shaping this great country.
My military service taught me at a high level, to be a leader, to make wiser decisions and to give the well thought advice. This overflows into my legal profession because it allows me to view every client and act in every situation to the highest degree with integrity, precision and wise counsel.
Since humble beginnings in rural Arkansas and throughout my career in the Air Force and my legal career, I never have shied away from a challenge or an opportunity. There are always calculated risks to any situation, but with my foundation of military professional training and my legal specialization in intellectual property, I am confident in the decisions I have to make and the advice I have to give each and every day. I am forever grateful for the opportunities that I have been given and for what I have learned throughout my years.
David L Odom is an intellectual property partner in the Dallas office of Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton. He was a captain in the U.S. Air Force and an aviator with more than 2,000 combined flying hours in the KC-135A and B-1B bomber aircraft. He also served as an electronics engineering liaison in cooperation with a defense contractor in the aviation defense B-1B flight simulation facility at Dyess AFB. He is a Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran.