Brothers United in Service and Skill

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Seleena Muhammad-Ali
  • 48th Fighter Wing

For many, serving in the military can offer a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood that is often described as a second family. Having a solid support system can be crucial for both job performance and personal well-being, especially in high-stress environments. For two Liberty Wing air traffic controllers, finding this support system was easier than normal.

Master Sgt. L’Aaron Odum, 48th Operational Support Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of ATC standardization and evaluations, and Staff Sgt. Neiko Odum, 48th OSS ATC watch supervisor, have been stationed at the 48th Fighter Wing together for 11 months and are fortunate enough to not only call each other brothers-in-arms but also brothers by blood.

“I’ve looked up to him my whole life,” said Nieko. “He was my first role model ever.”

L’Aaron enlisted in the Air Force in 2006, and Nieko followed him into the same career field in 2014.

Air traffic control is a vital and demanding job, requiring constant attention and quick decision-making. The brothers are responsible for ensuring the safe and efficient movement of aircraft in the airspace around RAF Lakenheath.

The Odum brothers felt like it was their personal responsibility to serve in the military. Their dad served, and their older brother is currently in and stationed in South Carolina.

“Our parents feel as though every man should serve at least one enlistment in the military. Our dad served in the military, and our mom liked the idea of it being a stepping stone into the real world,” said Nieko.

In addition to being assigned together at RAF Lakenheath, the pair also served together at Columbus Air Force Base when Nieko was fresh out of technical school.

Upon arriving at the military base, Nieko was an airman first class while L’Aaron was a staff sergeant watch supervisor. This led to instances where Nieko would make mistakes, and instead of being corrected directly, L’Aaron would be informed. This gave the impression that there was favoritism and that L’Aaron would go out of his way to protect Nieko from getting into trouble. However, L’Aaron said he was more stringent with Nieko than with others.

“I enjoy seeing him as a fully functioning adult now,” said L’Aaron. “I trained him at Columbus, and now he trained me here; there is a reciprocation of information. I love seeing how much he has grasped the knowledge of the career field over the years. I don't want to take credit, I just provided him with the books. I said, ‘This is what you need to know,’ and he just soaked it up and was able to execute."

The Odum brothers said they frequently rely on each other to fulfill mission objectives. They had the opportunity to participate in a short notice deployment to support the President of the United States.

When President Biden arrived for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, the Odum brothers were sent up to the UK air traffic control facility to ensure the safety and security of the airspace and provide security while the President attended the funeral procession.

Working together in the military has taken their relationship to a new level, allowing for both personal and professional growth through synergizing their efforts.

“Having a close relationship with a sibling in civilian life is great, but serving in the military together takes that bond to a new level,” said L’Aaron.

The high-stress environment of air traffic control combined with the fast-paced operations at Lakenheath make ATC a demanding job. However, with the support of each other and the bond of their close-knit unit they ensure the well being of everyone working in this critical role.

“At the end of the day, the planes never stop, so we have to make sure we get you in the right headspace so you can either get back in there and finish the game or we can let you detox and take time away to re-engage,” said L’Aaron.

The bond between the brothers has not only strengthened their relationship but has also had a positive impact on the military community. Their presence at RAF Lakenheath serves as a reminder of the important role that family plays in the lives of military personnel and the sacrifices that they make for their country.