Tracy L. DeMarco, a photojournalism instructor at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, helps Basic Photojournalist Course-Air Force students Staff Sgt. Tim Mesko, left, and Senior Airman Rana B. Franklin, center, with a studio photography assignment April 22, 2016 at the school. DeMarco, who retired in 2012 after 20 years in the Air Force, joined the DINFOS staff in February to teach photojournalism.
By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jordyn Apsey
Defense Information School
In 2009, Tracy L. DeMarco, then an Air Force master sergeant, deployed to Forward Operating Base Farah in Afghanistan for nearly a year.
For DeMarco, the best part about Afghanistan was the Afghan women’s photography club she started with the help of an International Security Assistance Force journalist and a female interpreter at the base.
All three women had something to bring to the club.
Gina, the journalist, was able to provide three Nikon camera systems, Nazrin was there as the interpreter, and DeMarco was there to teach Afghan women photography.
“I was really excited to teach,” said DeMarco, now a photojournalism instructor at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade. “I love teaching.”
DeMarco, a small woman with gentle features, teaches and encourages others no matter where she goes in life.
A Moorcroft, Wyoming, native, she was disqualified twice from enlisting in the Air Force.
On the third try, DeMarco received three waivers: one for her feet because she had worn arch supports, one for a heart murmur and one for being 10 pounds underweight, at only 90 pounds.
She was placed into the photography career field, and at 19, with no training for the job, she was sent to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for her first assignment.
California opened up her world, DeMarco said.
In the following years, DeMarco was passed over multiple times for chances to gain operational experience. When she had enough of that, she went into her boss’s office and told him that unless he sent her on a deployment, she would file a complaint.
Shortly after, she was deployed to Iraq as a weapons inspector.
“I learned very early that you have to look after yourself and go get what you want, or you’re not going to get it,” DeMarco said.
While in Iraq, she went to work at the United Nations headquarters building outside of Baghdad.
DeMarco flew in a UH-1H Huey helicopter every other day and photographed weapons sites, working 17-hour days with no weekends off.
After she returned from Iraq, 10 years passed before she was sent on another deployment. This time, it was to Afghanistan.
“I loved Afghanistan,” she said. “I was excited to go because I knew I was going to be retiring at 20 years. I did not want to retire and not go there.”
The photography club that DeMarco started in Farah consisted of four Afghan women who had a talent for photography, plus DeMarco, the ISAF journalist and the interpreter.
When the governor of Farah held an event at his compound to celebrate International Women’s Day, photographs DeMarco’s students had taken were displayed for all to see.
“My students got to sit and listen to people talk about their pictures,” she said. “It was so empowering for them to have a voice.”
During her deployment, DeMarco was also able to speak at all-girls schools. The girls were excited to be in school because not every Afghan girl could go, she said. She talked to them about feeling really good about who they were. She shared stories about her own two girls, Rachel and Chloe, who were then 3 and 1.
But the time DeMarco spent in Afghanistan was not all good.
A suicide bomber killed himself and 14 Afghans while DeMarco was on deployment.
Many people were injured -- too many for the local hospital to treat. Thirty-three people were brought to the ISAF base to receive medical assistance.
Of the 33 people who arrived that day, eight died. DeMarco was there to photograph the bodies in the emergency room of the hospital. Tents were erected outside because the hospital triage center was overwhelmed.
At one point, she was taking a picture of a doctor working on a patient on a stretcher outside of the hospital, she said. Another patient, wrapped in a blanket, was brought to the doctor. He took one look at the patient and said, “Expectant,” meaning that man was going to die.
“I’ll never forget his face,” DeMarco said. “In fact, I don’t think I’ll forget any of their faces. That night, when I was trying to sleep, all I could see was their faces.”
One of the people who died was a 12-year-old boy.
“It’s senseless,” DeMarco said. “It doesn’t make any sense. So when you get home, things that are supposed to make sense really don’t make sense.”
DeMarco retired in 2012 after 20 years in the Air Force and became a stay-at-home mom for two years.
She joined the DINFOS staff in February to teach photojournalism.
To come back as a civilian and be an example to students beginning their military careers is a huge accomplishment, DeMarco said.
“I just want to encourage people as much as possible to know that they can just go and do it,” she said.
“I was not even 100 pounds when I joined the service,” DeMarco said. “I had to fight to get in here and fight to get everything that I got. If I can do
that, anybody can.”
She hopes that students who hear her stories won’t be afraid or intimidated when receiving their own deployment orders.
DeMarco has already found a connection with her students.
She finds different ways to always keep the students interested, said Army Spc. John Wolfe, a student in the Basic Public Affairs Specialist Course at DINFOS.
“She has a very positive and upbeat attitude,” Wolfe said. “She is always very helpful whenever we need her.”
DeMarco is “stoked and motivated” to get into teaching at DINFOS, said Army Staff Sgt. David Chapman, the lead photojournalism instructor for
“She legitimately cares about teaching,” Chapman said. “She just cares about students.”