FORT JACKSON, S.C. — The first woman commandant of the Army’s elite drill sergeant school, who had been suspended for six months by the Army and later reinstated, bid a tearful farewell Thursday to her supporters, students and fellow soldiers as she bowed to Army pressure to leave her historic position.
In a solemn ceremony, Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King passed the ceremonial flag of responsibility for the Army Drill Sergeant School to Command Sgt. Maj. Michael McCoy.
Wiping away tears and her voice quaking, King told the gathering of several hundred soldiers she wasn’t sure she’d survive the past six months. She was barred from the school and not allowed to speak or contact colleagues during the investigation. Last week, she was put back in her job after the Army said her suspension was unwarranted, but offered no details or explanation, except to say it involved her conduct.
King was reinstated five days after her attorney filed a complaint about several of her superiors. The black 50-year-old woman contended they had abused their authority and she was a victim of sexism and racism. Although returned to her job, the Army then declined her request to stay on for the six months she’d been away.
King said her faith in God and friendships allowed her to endure.
“I went through some very trying times the last few months,” King told several hundred Army soldiers gathered for the ceremony. “Some days I didn’t think I was going to live.”
King argues she was unfairly targeted by those who resented her promotion and the national attention it attracted.
She said she still believes “the Army is a great place to serve.”
King said she was proud that during her two years as commandant, the Army’s three drill sergeant schools had merged into one, the school had moved into a new building and new barracks, and about 1,800 drill sergeants were trained at the school.
The soldiers gave King a standing ovation. Earlier, a cluster of drill instructors and staff presented her with a ceremonial saber and a photo of the school’s training platoons. Dozens lingered to offer her hugs, handshakes and pats on the back.
“It was a very touching ceremony,” said the deputy commandant at the school, Sgt. Maj. Blaine Huston.
King said afterward she has been asked to stay at Fort Jackson and report to the new commander, Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts, who took over last month.
“I’m very thankful,” she said.
King’s attorney James Smith said they will continue to press the complaint.
“Someone has to take responsibility,” said Smith, who is also a member of the South Carolina Army National Guard and trained under King at Fort Jackson.
An Army spokesman said the service is still looking into her complaint.
King’s role as commandant of the school drew nationwide attention when she was tapped in 2009 and was featured in national television reports and news articles.
As the Army has come to rely on more women in the ranks amid the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has struggled to keep senior enlisted women as order-barking drill sergeants.
The trainers are on call nearly round the clock, seven days a week as they attempt to mold civilians into soldiers in the 10 weeks of basic training.
About 60,000 soldiers are trained annually at the Fort Jackson. That includes half the Army’s male soldiers and more than 60 percent of its female soldiers, increasing the need for the female trainers.