Nation's Top Drill Sergeant Is a Woman

Commandant Sgt. Maj. Teresa King is the first woman in history to lead the Army's drill sergeant training school at Ft. Jackson, S.C.
When drill sergeants turn raw recruits into soldiers they are building the foundation of army combat readiness. Now, for the first time, the school that turns out these tough-as-nails officers is commanded by a woman. CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller got up early to see her at work.

Even before the sun is up, Commandant Sgt. Maj. Teresa King is making her rounds, making sure everyone stays on schedule and prepared to train the army's next generation of soldiers.

"I am still almost in shock," she said. "I was planning to retire"

After a 29-year career, King put retirement on hold last month because the army tapped her to be the first female commandant of the army's newly consolidated drill sergeant school at Fort Jackson, S.C. Now king oversees the training of the army's entire pool of future drill sergeants.

"Training is my forte," King said. "I expect people to meet standards and exceed them."

Still, when King's promotion was announced, critics charged at a time when the country is at war, she is a woman with no combat experience.

"There was the typical grumblings of 'Hey it should be a guy," said newly-trained Staff Sgt. Gary Robertson.

It's a stark reminder that while women make up 14 percent of the army's active duty personnel, they are only 8 percent of the army's highest ranking non-commissioned officers and are still barred from holding frontline combat positions.

But King dismisses critics, pointing to the combat vets she's already trained. She says she's successful because they are - because she trained them to be.

The concept of a drill sergeant has been around since the American Revolution, but wasn't made official until 1964. The task of a drill sergeant is to train a better soldier - training that could mean life or death on the battlefield.

"In the real world of Iraq and Afghanistan we expect soldiers to go over there and do what they have to do and come back alive," King said.

This year, the school will graduate nearly 2,000 new drill sergeants. In this latest class of 96, 16 are women.

"I am excited about it. Hopefully they'll be more females," said another new drill sergeant, Melanie Washington.

King's just making sure that they're qualified and up to the challenge - giving everyone the chance to be all they can be.