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Hard-Working Mechanics Keep Apaches Flying High in Iraq

By Spc. Derek Del Rosario, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP TAJI, Iraq, May 18, 2005 – Most Americans are familiar with Rosie the Riveter, the World War II-era image of a woman in blue overalls, rolling up her sleeve, flexing her bicep, and exclaiming, "We can do it!"

Rosie symbolized how women didn't mind getting dirty to help the war efforts. Two women mechanics in Company D, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment (Attack Reconnaissance), are forming their own version of this image today.

On the surface, Army Spcs. Melissa D. Crawford and Damaris Young look very different. Crawford stands 6 feet, 1 inch tall and loosely wears a size "large-long" desert camouflage uniform top. Young is 4 feet, 10 inches tall and wears a DCU top size "extra-small/extra-short."

What they do share, however, is that they are both hard-working mechanics doing their jobs in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Crawford and Young had different motives for being helicopter mechanics.

"I have great pride for my country; I wanted to get deployed," Young said. "Working on helicopters is a great thrill for me. I am very interested in how helicopters work, and working on them also makes me feel important."

Crawford said she was inspired by her son. "We were driving by Fort Hood (Texas) one day, and my son was so excited to see a helicopter fly by," she said. "He wanted to see one up close, so I decided that I wanted to be a mechanic so that his wish would one day come true."

Young surprises most people when she tells them she maintains Apaches. Her fellow workers sometimes tease her for being uncharacteristic of a typical mechanic.

"No one believes me when I say I'm a mechanic. Some of my buddies tease me when I can't reach high places and need a stepstool," Young said. "But I'm a tomboy. I've been working with my dad on cars and motorcycles since I was a child."

Before joining the Army, Crawford wasn't really exposed to mechanics. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in computer science and held mostly office jobs. The extent of her experience was helping her father work on the car, but that was a far stretch from working on Apaches. She said she gained a lot of confidence as a mechanic during her first deployment in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"When I got my first certificate of achievement, that's when I felt like a real mechanic," said Crawford. "During the first deployment here in Iraq, the chain of command really noticed the hard work (the unit) put in, and they let us know how proud they were."

Working in an environment made up of mostly men was daunting at first for Crawford, but she now has a strong bond with her coworkers.

"They were scared of offending me at first, so they would often watch what they would say around me," said Crawford. "You have to have a sense of humor as a female in this line of work. We joke and laugh together now. They are like my brothers. To them I'm not just 'some female,' I'm Crawford."

The mechanics of Company D must work together to handle their huge workload. The battalion is flying six times as much as they did before deploying, so team cohesion is needed to help maintain the Apaches.

"In a way, I have to prove myself as a mechanic," said Young. "I continue to work hard and hold my own weight, I don't mind getting dirty. I will do whatever it takes to get the job done."

Crawford understands that being a woman mechanic can bring labels. When someone challenges her abilities, Crawford lets her actions speak for themselves.

"You let them talk their trash, and then you correct them with action," said Crawford. "I've gotten used to the trash talk from people who think I can't do the job or handle it. I just show them up by working better and faster."

The entire company has been working better and faster, as the battalion puts in more than 2,000 flight hours a month -- a feat that couldn't be done without the efforts of the mechanics.

"We play a huge role in the Apaches, they couldn't fully function without maintenance," said Crawford. "And without Apaches, it would all fall on the infantrymen. Apaches are needed to help (protect) convoys, prevent ambushes, and react to fire."

Young also recognizes the importance of mechanics to the aviation brigade, and the dedication it takes to support the mission.

"As a mechanic, working hard and staying motivated is essential for mission completion," she said. "The lives of those two (Apache) pilots are in our hands, as well as the soldiers they save when they support infantrymen on the ground."

(Army Spc. Derek Del Rosario is assigned to 3rd Infantry Division's Aviation Brigade.)

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