COLUMBIA — The first woman to command the Army’s drill sergeant training took legal action Monday to reclaim her job, alleging she was improperly suspended last year because of sexism and racism and demanding that two of her superiors be investigated for abuse of their authority.
Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King still does not know what exactly her superiors were investigating when they suspended her Nov. 29, according to her attorney, James Smith. He said the Army has declined to say specifically what it was looking into, beyond a general statement that it involved her conduct.
Smith filed a legal complaint Monday with the Army against two of King’s superiors, and wants to have King reinstated to her position. Smith is also asking South Carolina’s two senior members of Congress, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. James Clyburn, for a congressional probe of King’s treatment.
Army officials said they wanted to study the complaint first before commenting.
King, who is black, made headlines in 2009 when the Army named her as the first woman to head the Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson, the Army’s largest training installation.
Smith has statements from King’s deputy at the school and an Army colonel who worked with King contending she is a victim of sexism and racism on the part of soldiers who resented her promotion and the national attention it drew.
Smith said he believes the Army is delaying its investigation in order to force King to take retirement when she becomes eligible later this year.
King’s deputy, Sgt. Maj. Robert Maggard, the former deputy commandant at the school, said he witnessed repeated incidents of sexism and disrespect directed against King in meetings they both attended during her tenure. Maggard said no action was taken after he told his superior about the treatment.
Maggard, 48, who is retiring this week from the Army, said he heard many comments that King had been the subject of “way too much media.”
Maggard said much was made of the fact that King had not been in combat. Those who serve in a combat zone are allowed to put a special patch on their uniform.
“This all came down to the fact she was female, non-combat patch and possibly envy of a black female,” Maggard said in an interview.
Smith also provided an affidavit from Col. John Bessler, who was King’s commanding officer when she was a drill sergeant and who visited her at the drill school after she was named commandant.
Bessler said “a good-ole boy ‘network of disgruntlement’ ” had led to what he called “a character assassination campaign” against King because “her standards are higher than theirs are.”