Through True Love and a Crystal, Darkly
I’m going to tell you a story about the Cold War. It’s one with tales of spy planes and high-tech weather vanes, top secret bases with top secret missions. In it the Russians were a constant threat. But it is a tale, ultimately, about friendly fire–or not-so-friendly fire. It’s a tale where men are not always heroic, where they lived long enough to become the villain. This is Crystal’s story, and it’s a tale that took decades to tell.
Young Crystal Trulove grew up in a small town in Idaho. Her family was very poor, but she considered herself very patriotic in high school. She wanted to serve her country by joining the military and so she did. From 1988 to 1992, Crystal was a weather specialist for the United States Air Force, observing and forecasting weather from the deserts and valleys of Washington and Colorado to remote islands in the Alaskan Aleutian chain. Crystal wanted to travel. She wanted to go to Spain, and in the end, her first duty station would be mere hours away from home.
But Crystal would only be in Spokane for a year. Her story would take her to Shemya Air Force Base, now Eareckson Air Station, which is on Shemya Island near the tip of the windswept Aleutian Islands in Alaska. At 1,500 air miles from Anchorage, Shemya was actually closer to Russia and Japan than to Alaska’s largest city. The island itself was about 2 miles by 4 miles–there was no town, just a base, and Crystal was stationed there for 13 months. There were about 500 personnel on base whose mission was to support an early warning system to detect missiles from Russia.
Supporting aircraft that flew along Russian airspace and monitor activity from Russia, Crystal and her team were in charge of collecting data and air samples, measuring visibility next to runway to directly communicate and explain weather conditions to the pilots landing planes. Sometimes the weather was so harsh no one was allowed to go outside. Because of the nature of their mission, they were also not allowed communication off island. All calls were monitored and all communication was shut down with any activity from Russia. Still, Crystal’s best memory from her service were of this time in isolation. She remembers sliding down steep hills with her weather team or jumping in the freezing cold Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean, irresponsible feats–she admits now–just to entertain from boredom.
Crystal was only one of 25 women on the island among hundreds of men. It garnered her a lot of intense attention, as she describes, from males desperate for female company. She was the only woman in the weather unit and luckily, her team members were like brothers who protected her during a time when it was still the norm to harass women. But the Airmen she knew did not always treat her like this.
What happens when the people you’re supposed to trust end up being the villains? When Crystal was attending tech school in Illinois, she was raped by her instructor. The same instructor would later attempt to repeat the act when he followed her to Spokane. He let her know beforehand that he was visiting so Crystal was able to escape by taking leave and hid in someone else’s room. This, along with another coworker harassing her, led her to ask to be transferred quickly, which is how she ended up doing a remote tour in Alaska. While in Alaska, she rekindled her relationship with her high school sweetheart. She had a choice to go anywhere in the world after this hardship tour, but instead she went to Colorado Springs, hoping to be with her beloved. They would break up within a month and Crystal would finish out her service working in the Air Force Academy. So much for true love.
None of her aggressors would pay. It took years before Crystal could even talk about what happened. “Knowing what I know now, would I have done it again?” Crystal pondered. She says so much of the comfort she’s able to enjoy now is due to her service. The healthcare and the therapy that ultimately helped her process the sexual assault. She admits she wouldn’t know how far she would’ve gotten without help from VA.
“It doesn’t have power over me anymore. Before I couldn’t even say rape. I didn’t want it part of my story. It was just too heavy. Being able to talk about it is immensely liberating. It’s not a death sentence, just something that happened. Just a sad, unfortunate thing, along with other sad, unfortunate things that are a part of my life. There’s good and bad–that’s the lesson. There’s always black and white–that’s the takeaway. The military helps make you tough. You realize you can take a lot and still function.”Crystal Trulove