Ten Push-ups for Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa L. King

BlogHer Original Post

September 22, the first day of autumn of 2009, saw another first: Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa L. King was appointed first female head of the Army drill sergeant school in Ft. Jackson, SC.

Meloukhia at this ain't livin' wrote, "Congratulations are in order for Sergeant Major Teresa L. King... Seriously, people, go read about her, she’s amazing." Here's an excerpt of what the New York Times had to say:

The eighth of 12 children, the sergeant major is the daughter of a sharecropper who grew cucumbers and tobacco near Fort Bragg, N.C. Her first job in the Army was as a postal clerk, a traditional position for women in those days... in her new job, she will have significant influence over the basic training of every enlisted soldier.

...As a child, she refused her mother’s cooking lessons, insisting on driving her father’s tractor and playing basketball instead. When her siblings got in trouble, she volunteered to take their spankings.

It was the sight of a commanding-looking female soldier in a stylish red beret at the fort that inspired her to enlist while still in high school. Within three years, she was sent to drill sergeant school, graduating as one of five women in a class of 30.

“Turns out she was about the best first sergeant they ever had,” [Willie Shelley, a retired command sergeant major who supervised Sergeant Major King in three postings] said. “It would not surprise me that she could become the first female sergeant major of the Army,” he added, referring to its top enlisted soldier.

Inspiring? Yes, although also a little scary. (A kid who volunteers to take her siblings' corporal punishments? Wow. Very intense...) I love that seeing another woman in the role of a soldier drove her to her career path. That is exactly what female role models are about. In that vein, Lisa at Pink Hand Gun hoped that Command Sgt. Maj. King would not leave other women behind:

While King's promotion is pushing gender boundaries, her own mentality may still be a bit prohibitive. She is quoted as saying that while she believes women should be allowed onto the frontline of battle, she doesn't think most women capable of meeting the standards required of male soldiers. King herself has met those standards (which include physical training tests of strength and endurance).

King has said that one of her priorities will be to recruit more women into her school. Let's hope that she has the foresight to believe her female recruits capable of achieving everything their male counterparts can achieve. Because if there's any evidence that women can do everything men can do, it's King's own journey to the top.

Personally, I think Command Sgt. Maj. King's comments on frontline battle were reasonable. What always makes curious is how men are held to the same standards. It seems like the Army takes into account how aging affects men's bodies, establishing a time in which one must run two miles by age group. If that's the case, shouldn't older men be assigned to different roles as younger men if they are also less fit to be on the front? (Or maybe it does already work that way, as I have no idea how the Army assigns people to various duties. I do know that fire departments that are always protesting the appointment of "less fit" women often allow older men who can't pass physical tests to remain on the squad, which undermines the argument that any weak link will bring down the team.)

While Command Sgt. Maj. King's promotion is great news in many ways, Jill Nelson at Nia Online compared Command Sgt. Maj. King's story to another one that is in the news, the beating of Army reservist Tasha Hill at a Cracker Barrel:

In ways that are simultaneously profoundly similar and vastly different the experiences of these two African American women capture a uniquely American moment and reality, rife, as usual, with contradictions. We rise. We are beat down. We rise. So much trouble in the world, so much violence against women. We rise. Is it time for sisters to organize in defense of ourselves?

She raises a crucial point: while we congratulate one woman for her achievements, we cannot forget the others who face discrimination (and violence) that prevents them from being all that they can be.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants. Her first book, Off the Beaten (Subway) Track, is about unusual things to see and do in NYC.

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