04/02/2012 09:32 am ET Updated Jun 02, 2012

Eyes Right: The Affair That Ended My Career as a Female Marine

It was March 1987. The year Prozac made its debut. Gasoline was eighty-nine cents a gallon; the cost to mail a letter, just twenty-four cents. Televangelist Jim Bakker had self-destructed, much the same way I had, by way of sex scandal. The interrogation room at Military Police Headquarters was battleship gray and the size of a child's bedroom. Under the single window, someone with a utilitarian mindset had shoved a gray metal desk; under the desk were two gray metal chairs so that interrogator and suspect were compelled to sit on the same side of the desk facing each other, or face out the window together.

Which position, I wondered, would my interrogator choose?

The walls were devoid of the usual framed photographs that displayed various weaponry and aircraft, were even missing the typical reenlistment posters with their Stay Marine! messages.
After ten years in the Marines, I seldom noticed the posters anymore, their propaganda blending into the environment like the green-and-tan camouflage uniforms we wore on field combat exercises. But, in this tiny interrogation room, the absence of reenlistment posters, the missing option of Stay Marine! felt conspicuous.

My heart was still running that marathon. My mind, however, was signaling that I should find some way to feign calmness, and so I leaned over the metal desk, finding the cold surface alarming against my feverish skin. I peered out the window on the pretense I was actually interested in the outdoor activity of the handful of Marines who were bundled in green field jackets against the mid-March frost. They were slowly walking the perimeter of the parking lot, policing for litter and cigarette butts.

Before becoming an officer, I was enlisted and assigned to litter details. I wondered if the Marines below felt as I had -- like a prisoner on work release.

Except for a few tall evergreens, the world surrounding Military Police Headquarters appeared as dismal and gray as the inside of the interrogation room. In the center of the parking lot stood the flagpole, and the flag, painfully conspicuous against the colorless sky, was whipping about at the mercy of the March cold front that had apparently gathered strength since my arrival, causing the flag's cables to clang now and then against the pole. This was the sort of morning that if at home, as I had been for two weeks already on house arrest, I might have been in the kitchen chopping carrots, celery, and onions for a cozy beef stew dinner that night with my husband and daughter. As it was, I had no plans for dinner that night. No plans for the rest of the day since abandoning my desertion fantasy of a new life in Canada.

No plans for the day after this one; none for the rest of my life.

I was still leaning over the metal desk, watching Marines pick up litter, when the door of the interrogation room finally opened.

A woman captain, wearing trousers and shiny oxfords the size of my husband's, entered. I straightened to attention, feeling ridiculously feminine and outmatched in my uniform choice of a skirt and high heels.

I knew this captain. Well, not knew her in the sense that we had shared anything other than salutes when passing each other in various parking lots around the air station. But I knew the woman who towered toward the dim fluorescent light on the ceiling in that interrogation room, the woman with slickedback, white-blond hair, face Aryan cool and sharp, as the officer in charge of Military Police. "At ease, Warrant Officer," she said in a tone offering nothing for interpretation, her eye contact brief and hesitant. I placed my hands against the small of my back and waited while she juggled from one hand to the other a legal-sized yellow pad, a pen, and a tape recorder, placing each on the metal desk, and each object, the way everything has of occupying space, further reducing the already too small room.

After closing the door, she motioned for me to take a chair. I pulled from under the desk the closer of the two chairs. I don't know why; either the decision seemed obvious or I was too intimidated to break her sphere of personal space. The padding of the seat I had chosen was ripped. I sat, and when I raised my right leg to cross it over my left knee, the upturned tear of fabric jabbed into a muscle and tugged at my stocking so that I had no choice but to lower my foot back to the floor.

The captain pulled out the second chair. The seat was not ripped. "Good morning, Warrant Officer," she said, sitting.

"Good morning, Ma'am."

She popped open the compartment of the cassette recorder. Apparently satisfied to find a tape, she closed the compartment, and then, sliding the machine across the desk, she seemingly divided the room into her half and my half. "So, how are you holding up, Tracy?"

The sound of my first name reverberated throughout the room. I could count on both hands the number of times in ten years a military officer had spoken my first name. Each time had been a deliberate attempt at intimacy. Something like hope was beginning to course through my veins. "I'm okay, Ma'am . . . given the circumstances."

She had been scribbling across the top of the legal pad the way you do when your pen seems out of ink, but suddenly stopped to look up. She smiled with the ease of an ally. Then, reaching across her half of the desk to turn on the tape recorder, she said, in a voice louder than I thought necessary, "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you. Do you understand?"

I nodded, forgetting the tape recorder. She pointed to the machine.

I leaned closer. "Yes, Ma'am."

And just like that, while outside, Marines collected litter from around the parking lot of Military Police Headquarters, while two blocks away at my own office my Public Affairs staff -- my former staff -- debated, even argued, over the front-page photograph for the upcoming newspaper, while my husband, Tom, halfheartedly inspected ammunition bunkers as a distraction until my phone call, while our six-year-old daughter, Morgan, warmly tucked inside an overly bright and cheerful first-grade classroom, practiced simple addition or finger painted, the interrogation procedure regarding charges against me for conduct unbecoming an officer, which included adultery, was finally underway.

This post is adapted from "Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine" by Tracy Crow, published in April by the University of Nebraska Press.