The Oxford Eagle
A University of Mississippi junior determined to have a career in the military took a chance when he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps on campus without a scholarship. That meant, Zaccheus McEwen would have to find a way to pay for college himself while working hard to prove that he wanted to excel in the program.
“While juggling a job and taking up to 17 hours a semester, I thought that my labor was going to be in vain,” he said. “I could not see the fruits of my labor.”
The ROTC program does not usually give out scholarships for sophomores. However, McEwen said he was blessed to receive one. Because of his work ethic, his commander nominated him for a scholarship, and the Air Force approved it.
“That goes to show that when an opportunity knocks on your door, you better be ready,” he said.
McEwen, or “Zack” as he is called, can usually be found in the ROTC training rooms. If he isn’t there, he may be working the desk, doing rounds at Deaton Hall or studying for the upper level history classes he takes for fun.
The McComb native studies integrated marketing communications and is a community assistant for Deaton Hall. He is also involved in the Black Student Union, Men of Excellence, The iTeam for the Center of Inclusion, and the Undergraduate Black Law Student Association.
As a training flight commander in the ROTC program, McEwen drafts and completes weekly operational orders of all professional military training events, plans and oversees leadership labs, and ensures all objectives are completed by everybody. He is in charge of training freshman and sophomore cadets.
McEwen said he joined ROTC because he knew he wanted to be part of something bigger than himself. “I didn’t just want to enlist,” he said. “I wanted to push myself even further and be the best I could be.”
According to the University of Mississippi’s ROTC website, the UM program won the MacArthur Award in 2012 because they were ranked among the Top 8 programs in the country and first among universities in the southeastern U.S.
There are approximately 125 cadets enrolled in the program. Approximately 60 percent of cadets come from outside of Mississippi and more than 30 majors are represented.
After graduating from Ole Miss, McEwen plans to become an officer in the Air Force, and his goal is to become a second lieutenant.
His said his goal at Ole Miss as a flight training commander is to influence people the best way he can in his position.
McEwen’s former employer, Andrew Hazelton said McEwen is open about his struggles and accomplishments. “That has allowed individuals to open up to him,” he said. “He’s always passionate about diversity and inclusion.”
Hazelton described McEwens’ character in one word: “strength.”
“Because of our current national climate and the conversations happening, you can’t really escape confronting everything, because you hear it so often,” Hazelton said. “A part of his struggle is the battle of fatigue – you are always going to battle on diverse issues and confronting socially unjust situations. You eventually get tired of it.
“I’ve never heard that with Zack. He has always had an optimistic and unwavering approach to confronting these issues.”
Last summer, McEwen was selected to attend field training for three weeks in Maxville, Alabama, and at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg. All rising juniors are required to attend and complete training before they enter the professional officer course, which is what junior and senior cadets are in.
McEwen had to compete for slots against other cadets in ROTC programs across the country. Those who are selected are evaluated based on their GPA, major, physical training scores, commander’s rank of cadets in the ROTC program, and they must pass the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test.
McEwen’s favorite part of being in ROTC is camaraderie with fellow cadets. He has made great friends he describes as “family” who constantly push each other to be better. He said the journey from freshman year to where they are now is truly a transformation.
McEwen also participated in the ROTC program at his high school. After reflecting on his many years in the ROTC program, both in college and in high school, he said he experienced a lot of personal growth.
“Still, be you, and don’t fight the transformation that will happen to you in the military,” he said “It is a learning experience.”
McEwen’s advice to people thinking about enlisting in the military is to make sure you join for the right reasons.
“Let them be your own reasons,” he said “Join for you, not anyone else. You’re the one putting your life on the line. Realize that everyone has a purpose and a meaning, so be intentional on joining.”