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Archive for Friday, June 14, 1991

S ROLE NO PROBLEM IN WAR

June 14, 1991

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A Lawrence woman who commanded a 138-member U.S. Army Reserve company in the Persian Gulf War said her gender did not pose any unusual problems with soldiers under her command.

"There were some of the usual people problems, but there was nothing because of gender," said Reservist Capt. Janice Ott, 33, who commanded the 129th Transportation Company in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

Ott returned to Kansas on April 25 and is back in Lawrence at least for the time being after taking part in a national victory parade for Persian Gulf veterans Saturday in Washington, D.C..

She said conditions in Saudi Arabia were tough but that her unit performed well.

"I was really pleased with the job our unit did over there," said Ott, who in civilian life is a distribution manager at Payless Shoe Source Corp. in Topeka. "The reserves really pulled their own."

AS COMMANDER of the transportation company, Ott was in charge of maintenance and movement of dozens of heavy trucks that were used to carry tanks to battle sites and strategic positions.

She said her company moved more than 500 tanks in seven months.

"We hauled 34 more loads than our closest competitor," she said of her company, which was moved to seven different sites in the middle of the desert as the crisis unfolded.

"I didn't actually see any of the fighting . . . but we could see Scuds and hear the artillery and the bombs that our planes were dropping," she said.

Ott said the closest she came to Iraq was a site 12 miles from the border in eastern Saudi Arabia.

However, members of her company drove trucks from the company's camp to the site of battle, well within the Iraq border, she said.

OTT SAID her company, stationed out of Osage City, had only 13 women including herself. Two of the women also were company officers, serving as lieutenants.

"If there were any gender problems, it wasn't something you could see," Ott said. "The women had basically the same problems as the men."

The problems Ott described as "usual" were mostly personal, such as soldiers wondering why they were not given a certain duty on a particular day or trying to keep sand out of their belongings.

"The sand storms were probably the worst thing," she said. "There was no way to keep the sand out."

Ott, who joined the Army in 1975 to receive financial assistance for college, says military life has treated her well.

"If you're a regular, it can kind of take over your life, but when you're in the reserves you kind of get the best of both worlds," she said. The military, she added, has sent her traveling to Europe and other parts of the world.

SATURDAY'S parade and picnic in Washington for Persian Gulf veterans was an enjoyable experience, Ott said.

"There was one guy who yelled `You're all going to burn in hell,'" Ott said, but she added that a majority of parade observers were supportive of the troops.

Though Ott saw President Bush and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high officials at the parade reviewing stand, she said the best thing about the parade were the people lining the street.

"They were very supportive . . . especially the women," she said. "All the women were hollering at us very loud when we walked by saying `All right, way to go.'"

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