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Oral history interview with Susan A. Pranke 2007.

Author: Susan A Pranke; Terry MacDonald; Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
Edition/Format:   Archival material : Cassette recording : English
Database:WorldCat
Summary:
Susan Pranke, a Green Bay, Wisconsin reside nt, discusses her career in the Army and her service as a Supply Officer during the Persian Gulf War. Born in De Pere (Wisconsin), Pranke attended East De Pere High School and fought a court battle to play on the boys baseball team. Pranke calls herself "one of the forerunners" for equality in women's athletics. Pranke remembers being fascinated by the military early on;  Read more...
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Genre/Form: Personal narratives, American
Named Person: Susan A Pranke
Document Type: Archival Material
All Authors / Contributors: Susan A Pranke; Terry MacDonald; Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
OCLC Number: 378731493
Event notes: Interviewed by Terry MacDonald on March 24, 2007 in Green Bay, Wis.
Description: Sound recording : 3 sound cassettes (ca. 136 min.) : analog, 1 7/8 ips. Master sound recording : 3 sound cassettes (ca. 136 min.) : analog, 1 7/8 ips. Transcript : 35 p.

Abstract:

Susan Pranke, a Green Bay, Wisconsin reside nt, discusses her career in the Army and her service as a Supply Officer during the Persian Gulf War. Born in De Pere (Wisconsin), Pranke attended East De Pere High School and fought a court battle to play on the boys baseball team. Pranke calls herself "one of the forerunners" for equality in women's athletics. Pranke remembers being fascinated by the military early on; at age four she would play with her father's old Soldier's Manual from World War II. Pranke also mentions being inspired by the television show "Gomer Pyle." She discusses her parents' negative reaction to her interest in joining the Army and her decision to wait to enlist until she was in college so she would not need their signature. Pranke attended University of Wisconsin-Green Bay for one year before transferring to University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where she majored in Recreation Leadership. Pranke describes enlisting in the Army Reserve Office Training Corps (ROTC) during her sophomore year. She reveals she only doubted her decision for "about thirty seconds" when she arrived at basic training at Fort Knox (Kentucky) the summer after her sophomore year. Pranke covers her basic and officer training in detail, remarking that the drill sergeants treated everyone in ROTC "just like G.I.s." She outlines the demographics of her classmates who came from diverse regions. Pranke mentions most women she knew in ROTC had relatives in the military or grew up as "Army brats," which made Pranke feel like a "cold fish out of water." Pranke also describes befriending foreign soldiers in her Army classes from Zaire, Botswana, Sudan, Korea, and Egypt. Between her junior and senior year, she attended Advanced Camp at Fort Riley (Kansas) where soldiers creatively battled wood ticks. Later that summer, Pranke did on-the-job training at Fort Campbell (Kentucky) with a Quartermaster Officer. While at Fort Campbell, Pranke attended Air Assault School which involved rigging materials like jeeps to be picked up by helicopters, rappelling out of Chinsook and Huey helicopters, and completing a ten-mile march in two hours. She tells a story of falling off the helicopter skid during training and bravely rappelling to the ground. Pranke states that she was one of the first 100 women to graduate from Air Assault School and that she was one of only two women in her class to finish the road march. She tells of encountering jealousy and condescension from male classmates when she returned to UW- La Crosse wearing her Air Assault Wings. After graduating college, Pranke applied to become a Military Intelligence Officer, but she was given a Quartermaster Officer commission instead, which she feels was ultimately a better fit. Pranke attended General Troop Support training at Fort Lee (Virginia) before she was given her first assignment in Fort Polk (Louisiana) to a Division. Pranke explains she was happy to go to a Division because she would learn what the "Army was really all about." She praises several officers who were strong role models, including a female Company Commander in her Advanced Individual Training, and Major Dowling whom she worked with in the Division Support Command at Fort Polk. After a couple years at Fort Polk, where Pranke states she was the only female officer, she attended Airborne School at Fort Benning (Georgia) and then Parachute Rigging School in Germany. Pranke describes both experiences in detail, addressing the differences between jumping out of airplanes versus helicopters. She explains rigging school involved packing and repacking parachutes and securing equipment to be airdropped. Pranke feels seeing another woman from Wisconsin who had gone through Rigger School inspired her to go too. She states: "I always had to prove to myself that I was capable of what everybody else was." Following parachute training, Pranke, now a Captain, was put in charge of six people, including a few civilians, in the 29th Area Support Command in Kaiserslautern (Germany). After one year, she became Company Commander of a Rigger Detachment in the 705th Maintenance Battalion, putting her in charge of over 80 soldiers. She comments that "Airborne people [are] a different subset." She notes that she sent four or five soldiers working for her to alcohol and drug rehab. Pranke discusses the effective rehabilitation therapy available to soldiers, but also the difficulty of being the officer to send them there. Pranke relates an encounter with an angry "Army wife" whose husband was in alcohol treatment. She also touches upon personal scandals of soldiers in the Rigger unit: her first lieutenant was discharged for cheating on his wife, and another soldier went to prison for attacking his wife, a German citizen, in a drunken rage. After 21 months as a Company Commander, Pranke went to the University of Montana to be an ROTC instructor and serve on the Accessions Board. Pranke appreciated seeing the assignment process from behind the scenes and being a role model for the cadets. In August, 1990, Pranke was called up to Kuwait, the Persian Gulf War having just begun. Pranke portrays herself as reluctant to go. She was stationed in Saudi Arabia as a Staff Officer in the supply wing of the 18th Airborne Corps, 101st Corps Support Command. By now a Captain Promotable, Pranke states her job was to brief and educate commanders in the Persian Gulf about supply logistics and "what we could offer" units in the area. Pranke expresses frustration at the layers of bureaucracy and the two-day delay in communication that made it hard to deliver accurate reports. Pranke tells a story of the Colonel of the 101st ordering the supply staff to travel 200 miles to get chicken and hamburger meat because he was tired of eating "Meals Ready to Eat." Pranke depicts this Colonel as short-sighted, explaining that her objections were ignored and that the soldiers got sick from the fresh food because their bodies were used to eating MREs. Shortly after arriving in Iraq, Pranke recalls hearing on BBC radio that the war was over. Almost as soon as she got to Iraq, Pranke says, she was sent back to Saudi Arabia with the first wave of troops to return. Pranke states Saudi civilians "would come and be all smiles ... and go out of their way to shake our hands and say, 'Thank you, thank you.'" In Saudi Arabia, Pranke explains she was reestablishing operations and setting up camp for an estimated 10,000 troops. Pranke says because they were the first group back to Saudi Arabia, they had to cater food and hire Sri Lankans to serve it. She details the delivery of bottled water and how trucks would come from Mecca and jostle to be the first unloaded at the dock. Pranke also mentions Saudi civilians would sneak over the fence to steal bottled water while the Army looked the other way. Once the U.S. began to pull out of the Middle East, Pranke reveals that the Saudis raided the base for mattresses, cots, cranes, plywood, and supplies the Army left behind. She comments briefly on interacting with Saudi civilians and seeing nomads, camel herds, and women wearing burqas. Pranke was impressed by the "expressive eyes" of the women. After nearly eight months in Saudia Arabia, Pranke was flown home. A single woman at the time, she recalls that the wives' support group had called her parents and arranged for a former cadet Pranke had taught in Montana to meet her at the airport. Pranke continued her career in the Army, attending Petroleum Supply School and later becoming a logistician officer in Japan for the 500th Military Intelligence Brigade. Now a Major, Pranke had a top secret clearance and learned much about military intelligence. In 1996, Pranke left Japan and retired early, at fifteen years instead of twenty, because there was an excess amount of officers in her class year. Pranke comments on the respect and opportunities that come with having a rank and reveals she was often mistaken for a West Point graduate because of her experience. She mentions joining the Madelyn La Canne 539th American Legion Post for female veterans in Green Bay (Wisconsin). Finally, Pranke reflects on her role as a trailblazer, stating: "I opened a lot of doors and got a lot of second looks" and "you really don't realize what path you're creating until later on in life."

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Pranke describes enlisting in the Army Reserve Office Training Corps (ROTC) during her sophomore year. She reveals she only doubted her decision for "about thirty seconds" when she arrived at basic training at Fort Knox (Kentucky) the summer after her sophomore year. Pranke covers her basic and officer training in detail, remarking that the drill sergeants treated everyone in ROTC "just like G.I.s." She outlines the demographics of her classmates who came from diverse regions. Pranke mentions most women she knew in ROTC had relatives in the military or grew up as "Army brats," which made Pranke feel like a "cold fish out of water." Pranke also describes befriending foreign soldiers in her Army classes from Zaire, Botswana, Sudan, Korea, and Egypt. Between her junior and senior year, she attended Advanced Camp at Fort Riley (Kansas) where soldiers creatively battled wood ticks. Later that summer, Pranke did on-the-job training at Fort Campbell (Kentucky) with a Quartermaster Officer. While at Fort Campbell, Pranke attended Air Assault School which involved rigging materials like jeeps to be picked up by helicopters, rappelling out of Chinsook and Huey helicopters, and completing a ten-mile march in two hours. She tells a story of falling off the helicopter skid during training and bravely rappelling to the ground. Pranke states that she was one of the first 100 women to graduate from Air Assault School and that she was one of only two women in her class to finish the road march. She tells of encountering jealousy and condescension from male classmates when she returned to UW- La Crosse wearing her Air Assault Wings. After graduating college, Pranke applied to become a Military Intelligence Officer, but she was given a Quartermaster Officer commission instead, which she feels was ultimately a better fit. Pranke attended General Troop Support training at Fort Lee (Virginia) before she was given her first assignment in Fort Polk (Louisiana) to a Division. Pranke explains she was happy to go to a Division because she would learn what the "Army was really all about." She praises several officers who were strong role models, including a female Company Commander in her Advanced Individual Training, and Major Dowling whom she worked with in the Division Support Command at Fort Polk. After a couple years at Fort Polk, where Pranke states she was the only female officer, she attended Airborne School at Fort Benning (Georgia) and then Parachute Rigging School in Germany. Pranke describes both experiences in detail, addressing the differences between jumping out of airplanes versus helicopters. She explains rigging school involved packing and repacking parachutes and securing equipment to be airdropped. Pranke feels seeing another woman from Wisconsin who had gone through Rigger School inspired her to go too. She states: "I always had to prove to myself that I was capable of what everybody else was." Following parachute training, Pranke, now a Captain, was put in charge of six people, including a few civilians, in the 29th Area Support Command in Kaiserslautern (Germany). After one year, she became Company Commander of a Rigger Detachment in the 705th Maintenance Battalion, putting her in charge of over 80 soldiers. She comments that "Airborne people [are] a different subset." She notes that she sent four or five soldiers working for her to alcohol and drug rehab. Pranke discusses the effective rehabilitation therapy available to soldiers, but also the difficulty of being the officer to send them there. Pranke relates an encounter with an angry "Army wife" whose husband was in alcohol treatment. She also touches upon personal scandals of soldiers in the Rigger unit: her first lieutenant was discharged for cheating on his wife, and another soldier went to prison for attacking his wife, a German citizen, in a drunken rage. After 21 months as a Company Commander, Pranke went to the University of Montana to be an ROTC instructor and serve on the Accessions Board. Pranke appreciated seeing the assignment process from behind the scenes and being a role model for the cadets. In August, 1990, Pranke was called up to Kuwait, the Persian Gulf War having just begun. Pranke portrays herself as reluctant to go. She was stationed in Saudi Arabia as a Staff Officer in the supply wing of the 18th Airborne Corps, 101st Corps Support Command. By now a Captain Promotable, Pranke states her job was to brief and educate commanders in the Persian Gulf about supply logistics and "what we could offer" units in the area. Pranke expresses frustration at the layers of bureaucracy and the two-day delay in communication that made it hard to deliver accurate reports. Pranke tells a story of the Colonel of the 101st ordering the supply staff to travel 200 miles to get chicken and hamburger meat because he was tired of eating "Meals Ready to Eat." Pranke depicts this Colonel as short-sighted, explaining that her objections were ignored and that the soldiers got sick from the fresh food because their bodies were used to eating MREs. Shortly after arriving in Iraq, Pranke recalls hearing on BBC radio that the war was over. Almost as soon as she got to Iraq, Pranke says, she was sent back to Saudi Arabia with the first wave of troops to return. Pranke states Saudi civilians "would come and be all smiles ... and go out of their way to shake our hands and say, 'Thank you, thank you.'" In Saudi Arabia, Pranke explains she was reestablishing operations and setting up camp for an estimated 10,000 troops. Pranke says because they were the first group back to Saudi Arabia, they had to cater food and hire Sri Lankans to serve it. She details the delivery of bottled water and how trucks would come from Mecca and jostle to be the first unloaded at the dock. Pranke also mentions Saudi civilians would sneak over the fence to steal bottled water while the Army looked the other way. Once the U.S. began to pull out of the Middle East, Pranke reveals that the Saudis raided the base for mattresses, cots, cranes, plywood, and supplies the Army left behind. She comments briefly on interacting with Saudi civilians and seeing nomads, camel herds, and women wearing burqas. Pranke was impressed by the "expressive eyes" of the women. After nearly eight months in Saudia Arabia, Pranke was flown home. A single woman at the time, she recalls that the wives' support group had called her parents and arranged for a former cadet Pranke had taught in Montana to meet her at the airport. 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