CATEGORY: Monroe County
HED:Desire to serve
By Eileen Bailey
ABERDEEN - Sitting behind her desk, 26-year-old Cassandra Ewing looks like any other mayor's executive secretary.
Her tailored royal blue suit and coordinated top highlight her 130-pound frame. To look at the young professional, one would never guess Ewing likes to get her hands dirty - really dirty.
One weekend a month, Ewing fulfills her commitment to the Mississippi Army National Guard, serving as a diesel mechanic and tool clerk.
Ewing, who also is pursuing a degree in business administration at Mississippi University for Women, has been with the National Guard for four years, the same length of time she has been the Aberdeen mayor's executive secretary.
Ewing said she chose the occupation of diesel mechanic as her specialty because it was different from what she was doing during her regular work week.
When she graduated Aberdeen High School about eight years ago, she wanted to join the U.S. Air Force. That idea was shot down by her father, who wanted his daughter to attend college.
She first went to Itawamba Community College, then transferred to Jackson State University. After taking a break from college and going to work for a while, she decided she wanted to join the Guard. Being in an office every day spurred Ewing to want something more.
When she returned home from Jackson, she went to Detachment 1, Headquarters and Support Company of the 223rd Engineering Battalion and signed up. She went through nine weeks of basic training and an additional 10 weeks of advanced training to be a diesel mechanic. Of the 500 people attending the additional training, only about 30 were women, she said.
"I was given a choice between diesel mechanic or a cook, and for your safety and mine, I chose to be a mechanic," she said. "Even though it is different, it would probably be what I would have chosen."
Ewing has been trained to repair 5-ton trucks, humvees and dump trucks. Another part of her duties is to account for the tools used to repair those vehicles.
The training, she said, was difficult but also "exciting." She said she had to learn to carry and maintain her own toolbox, which weighs about half of what she does. She also had to learn to rebuild an alternator and starter by herself. As a team, the group had to rebuild an engine.
Her duties in Aberdeen's unit today deal mainly with being accountable for the tools. During the two-week summer training at Camp Shelby and elsewhere, Ewing is responsible for repairing vehicles.
Once during training, a captain from another unit saw her standing on the bumper of the truck assisting in the repair of an engine.
"He said, 'What's that girl doing up there?'" Ewing said. "I told him I was a mechanic."
Even though there are 15 women in her unit, Ewing is the only female diesel mechanic.
The job can be dangerous, not only for women but for anyone who works with the larger vehicles. Even changing a tire can be dangerous.
"You have to know what you're doing," she said.
Ewing, the daughter of Calvin and Alton Ewing of Aberdeen, said many of the guardsmen in her unit are supportive of her role as a mechanic.
Ewing said one of her goals is to attend Officer Training School.
"I want to make a difference and being an officer you can do that," she said.