Tracy Crow’s first few weeks as a military journalist were filled with an editor’s red ink corrections.
Eventually she became a highly respected and decorated combat correspondent, she said, until she had an affair with a general.
“I left under honorable discharge,” she said. “But I left under conditions that were certainly less than honorable.”
Crow, who served in the Marine Corps from 1977 to 1987, will speak at “Writing to Heal: A Veteran’s Perspective,” an event Saturday being held by the Durham VA Medical Center and Dress for Success Triangle NC.
She will launch her new book “It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan” and sign copies with co-author Jerri Bell.
Crow said the book talks about women’s contributions to the military since the Revolutionary War.
“We felt from day one that we were writing this book for all women,” she said. “Not just women veterans, but the generations to come because women’s stories have been discounted for so long – for 250 years – and right now it’s very prevalent with all this discussion about women in combat, women can’t do this and women can’t do that.”
Crow, originally from Greensboro, said she will also discuss how writing has helped her heal, although it took a while before she was able to talk about it.
She avoided talking about the affair and her discharge until her memoir professor at Eckerd College in Florida persuaded her to write about her military experience one day after class.
“I don’t know what it was,” Crow said. “I don’t know if it was because I was standing underneath the light of God – it was a street lamp – but I couldn’t lie to Professor Helen Wallace … she’s just like the personified version of truth. You cannot lie to this woman.”
Women account for 15 percent of active-duty personnel in the U.S. military.
Almost 20 percent of women veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, according to the National Center for PTSD.
Crow wrote her first story about training at the rifle range and hitting every target but her own.
Her class loved the story but said she missed the heart of it.
“They said the real story of this rifle range experience is how did it feel to have to beg and plead your way there because a marine colonel said you weren’t good enough as a woman to cover his fifth marine regiment in the desert if you’d never fired a weapon?” Crow said.
“How did it make you feel to be told that you weren’t a good enough marine because you were a woman?”
Crow’s writings taught her the value of owning and writing one’s own life story, an idea she will stress Saturday.
“There’s a healing quality to it as well,” she said. “We’re all aware of what’s happening right now with ... post traumatic stress disorder, and one of the things we do know is that writing about the event within your life is a pathway towards healing.”
Crow sees her military storytelling as an obligation.
“Those of us who are willing to go to those dark places and willing to expose those things – and we can – it’s almost like we have an obligation. Because not everybody can or will.”
A safe outlet
Jillian Thompson, a music therapist at the Durham VA Medical Center, said writing can be a safe way for people to express their thoughts and emotions.
“It gives them an outlet to get it out in a safe place,” she said. “They learn to express their feelings by writing so that way they don’t have to share it with others, but they don’t have to hold it in at the same time.”
Thompson holds weekly creative writing workshops for veterans with PTSD, military sexual trauma and other mental health conditions. For Saturday, her class wrote about how writing is a healing process for them. Those stories will be shared and on display at the event.
Dress for Success Triangle NC will also be at the event. Diana Graham, the program’s veteran coordinator, said women can go to the Durham location – at Northgate Mall – after the event for free career coaching.
The event will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the medical center’s atrium and is open to all. For more information go to bit.ly/2ujVLWZ
Ana Irizarry: 317-213-3553