COLUMBIA, S.C. – 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 on Monday filed a legal complaint 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.
"It's abundantly clear that there was nothing to warrant her removal. The Army should reinstate her and restore her honorable name," Smith said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The attorney said King, 50, has declined to comment on the actions, saying the complaint stands on its own. But in a rebuttal to the Army, King wrote her superiors, "My instincts tell me that if I were a male, that none of this would have happened."
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.
Smith, who has handled military legal cases as an executive officer in the National Guard, said Army regulations require that investigations must be handled "expeditiously" and the one against King has gone on far too long.
After she took charge of the training program, reporters and TV crews descended on King, making much of her background as the daughter of a North Carolina sharecropper who dispensed stern discipline to his 12 children. She was featured on national TV, on newspaper front pages and in women's magazines, sometimes with photos of her car sporting "noslack" vanity plates.
Smith said envy and sexism were at the heart of the investigations which began against her after being named commandant at the school. He produced Army evaluations that showed that up until then, King had excellent ratings throughout her career.
Smith said the complaint is being filed against Maj. Gen. Richard Longo, who ordered King suspended, and his top enlisted aide, Command Sgt. Maj. John Calpena.
At the time of the decision, Longo was the head of the Army's basic and advanced military training at the Training and Doctrine Command, which has responsibility for the drill sergeant school. He now is serving in Afghanistan.
Emails to Longo and Calpena were not immediately answered.
Harvey Perritt III, spokesman for the Training and Doctrine Command in Fort Eustis, Va., said King's complaint had been received.
"We've got it, and we're examining it," Perritt said.
Smith said the legal action is formally called an Article 138 complaint under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, which is the law under which the military operates.
Smith, who is a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, is also a captain in the South Carolina Army National Guard. He trained under King when she was a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson.
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, Calpena, 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 that even though only one former commandant of the drill sergeant school out of about a half dozen had been deployed to a combat zone in the past, much was made of the fact that King had not been deployed 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."
Susanne M. Schafer can be reached at http://twitter.com/susannemarieap.