A career in natural resources management conjures up thoughts of working in serene settings, protecting the environment, being a friend to wildlife, and teaching young and old to appreciate the outdoors. Jereme Odom (Martin ’98) does all that and more as a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officer. He enforces hunting, fishing, and boating laws, manages state-owned land, and conducts youth programs. He also developed the concept for a $3-million state shooting complex–a facility he oversees after raising more than $900,000 toward its completion.
“No day is typical,” Odom says. “As a wildlife officer, you can head out to check hunters or boaters and end up working with injured wildlife or talking with area youth or farmers. It is a great and fulfilling job.”
May 25, 2006, was even less typical than most of Odom’s days. He helped save a life and then found his own life threatened, as well. He deflects attention from his heroic exploits though they attracted media attention and gratitude from the family and friends of those involved.
“I was just doing my job and trying to help,” Odom says. “I have lots of other things that I want to be known for . . . not a tragedy at the muddy river.”
Early that day, storms caused the Red River in Clarksville to swell. When the weather cleared, two boys went for a swim at the Old Mill on the west fork of the river. About 6 p.m., the Montgomery County Rescue Squad called TWRA for help recovering the two youths, who were presumed drowned.
Odom and his partner, Dale Grandstaff, set out by boat. When they rounded a bend, they saw a terrifying sight: an empty rescue boat sucked against the dam by the roiling water and its two former occupants–divers Joe Snow and Dustin Hass–battling relentless suction that was pulling them down.
Odom and Grandstaff got to Hass first, got him out of danger, and then went back for Snow, who was trapped in the turbulence and losing strength. But as they attempted the rescue, the treacherous currents pulled their boat into the dam, as well. The craft capsized and trapped Odom underneath. Battling the fearsome suction and with his lungs nearly bursting, he fought to get his head above water.
“When I finally made it to the surface, I was totally out of breath,” he remembers. But the river wasn’t through with him yet. The rigging, dislodged from the rescue boat by the turbulent water, wrapped itself around Odom’s neck. Luckily, Grandstaff had stayed afloat by holding on to their capsized boat and was able to get to his partner and remove the rope. Together they made it to shore.
About the same time, Snow was freed from the powerful pull of the spilling water and airlifted to a hospital, but he died several days later. Odom was transferred by ambulance to a medical facility, where he was treated and released.
“I go on many calls with boating accidents, and some involve death and injury,” Odom reflects. “But this was the first time that other rescuers and I have been involved in being rescued and losing a rescuer. It was a reality check.”