“When Fighting Starts, You’re Just Going To Have To Help People”: A Journey From Aviator to Chaplain

Joseph R. Odell


Chaplain (Major) Joey Odell’s parents separated when he was young, and he spent his childhood moving from family member to family member. A West Point mailer offered the opportunity to improve his situation. At the Military Academy, he majored in Chemistry, excelled at boxing, and branched Aviation. Early in his career he deployed to Bosnia where he began to appreciate how destructive war is. After serving in an ROTC assignment at Morehead State University, and earning a Master’s Degree in psychology, he decided to leave the military, attend seminary, and try to return to the Army as a Chaplain. He attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, earning his Master’s Degree in Divinity. His next assignment in the Army was with 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), where he was assigned as a Chaplain in the 1st Battalion of the 327th Infantry Regiment. Over the next several years, he deployed to Afghanistan a total of four times. Currently, Chaplain Odell is serving as the Second Regimental Chaplain at West Point. In this interview, Chaplain Odell talks about his childhood, attending West Point, and serving as an Aviator. He describes meeting his wife and deciding to become a minister. He explains the difficulties of juggling seminary, work, and a family, and the payoff of becoming a minister and being selected for the Chaplain’s Corps. He discusses serving as a Chaplain during a deployment, and the importance of support networks. Finally, he shares his experiences as a West Point Regimental Chaplain.


name Joseph R. Odell
institution USMA
graduation year 1995
service Aviation / Chaplain
unit 1-10 Aviation; 4-7 Cavalry; 1st BN, 327th IN, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)
specialty Chaplain Corps
service dates 1995