Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King, shown in a 2012 photo, was reinstated as commandant of the Army Drill Sergeants School at Fort Jackson, S.C., after her suspension from the job and a five-month investigation. (Alan Lessig/Staff)
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that retired Sgt. Maj. Teresa King was found to be a toxic leader by an Army investigation. The investigation did not draw that conclusion.
The first female commandant of the Army’s Drill Sergeant School, whom the service suspended for five months, and briefly reinstated, was awarded the Legion of Merit even as the service forced her to retire against her will.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Teresa King has filed a $10 million administrative claim alleging she suffered emotional and psychological damage, and damage to her reputation, all at the hands of Army officials.
“It’s not over,” King’s attorney, James Smith Jr., told Army Times. “It’s really not about the money. It’s what do we have to do to get the Army’s attention, to get them to acknowledge that she’s not been treated fairly. It’s been utterly ridiculous.”
Army officials presented King with the Legion of Merit at Fort Jackson, S.C., after a laudatory speech at a command meeting, according to a Training and Doctrine Command spokesman. The award, the sixth highest soldier award, is designated for meritorious service in a leadership position, a rare honor for an enlisted soldier — and perhaps a counterpoint to King’s previous two years of career limbo.
“In my eyes, it isn’t a counterpoint. She served the Army in a commendable manner for 32 years,” said Col. Christian Kubik. “Although she was investigated at the Drill Sergeant School, she was ultimately reinstated as commandant and allowed to retire.”
King was directed to attend a commander’s morning update briefing May 31, in front of Brig. Gen. Peggy Combs,the interim commander of Fort Jackson,and her staff, Kubik said. King had declined a retirement luncheon, which is normally afforded to soldiers of her stature, and a spot in the command’s monthly retirement review ceremony, Kubik said.
Smith said King is deserving of the honor, but asserted the gesture is part of a legal defense strategy in which Army officials try to appear as though they accommodate King as she is pushed out the door. “It’s real obvious,” Smith said.
King’s claim, filed April 7, restates claims Smith made on her behalf over a lengthy period against various TRADOC leaders, including that they mishandled their investigations of her and that she was punished for following orders to enforce standards at the school.
King’s ascension to commandant, covered by The New York Times and Oprah magazine, had been a compelling narrative. A sharecropper’s daughter who had become the first female first sergeant named to oversee the headquarters company of the XVIII Airborne Corps, she was nicknamed “Sergeant Major No Slack” after the “NOSLACK” vanity plates on her black Corvette.
Roughly two years after she took over at the school, however, the Army suspended King and launched an investigation into her leadership of the school.
After five months of King’s suspension and the related press coverage, the Army announced her reinstatement.
The reinstatement came just four days after King filed an Article 138 complaint alleging that she was the victim of racial and gender discrimination at the hands of TRADOC leaders.
But only 13 days later King was made to hand over the school in a ceremony there in May 2012.
While her case was being appealed King worked as special assistant to the Fort Jackson post commander.
King’s hopes to stay in the Army faltered in recent months, including a ruling against her appeal of the suspension.
Kubik would not provide Army Times with the ruling, rather he read a prepared statement indicating King’s allegations were unfounded. Smith said he, too, has not been given a copy of that ruling. “I have a letter saying they denied it, but it doesn’t answer anything about why it was denied,” he said.
“The allegations were thoroughly investigated at levels above TRADOC, and a tremendous amount of resources were committed to an exhaustive and comprehensive investigation,” Kubik said. “All investigations are now complete, and as I understand it, all allegations were essentially unfounded, and all leaders were absolved and cleared.”
King’s mandatory retirement was scheduled for October 2012 after 32 years of service, and the Army granted her extension request. This spring she was not chosen as a nominative command sergeant major.