The roadside bomb that blasted John King’s tank south of Baghdad nearly five years ago rocked the 70-ton vehicle, enveloping it in a cloud of smoke and sand.
King, then commander of a Georgia National Guard armor battalion, could have stayed behind as his soldiers leapt from their tanks to hunt the bomb's triggerman. But he jumped out with his 108th Armor Regiment troops, scrambled through some muddy canals and assisted in the search.
He didn’t find any insurgents that day in 2005, but King’s lead-from-the-front approach has served him well in his decades-long military career.
King, Doraville's police chief, has been promoted to command the Georgia National Guard's 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a roughly 4,300-person unit that draws soldiers from across the state. A veteran of the wars in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, the colonel will take charge of the battled-tested unit Sunday during a ceremony at the brigade’s headquarters in Macon.
“Bold action is something he is known for,” said Maj. Gen. Terry Nesbitt, Georgia’s adjutant general, who has known King since he was a lieutenant. King, 46, joined the 48th Brigade as a private in 1982.
A gregarious officer with an easy smile, King put his diplomatic skills to good use in Iraq in 2005, when he led the 1st Battalion as a lieutenant colonel. King met with local sheiks regularly to gain their cooperation in quelling the insurgency in the Sunni-dominated area south of Baghdad, known then as the Triangle of Death.
King was born in Mexico City and speaks fluent Spanish, another skill that surprisingly came in handy in Iraq. His fluency with the language helped him work closely with an El Salvadorian military unit based there.
King returned home from Iraq to face another battle that drew national attention. In 2007, Doraville City Council members voted to fire him based on several complaints, including that he was a "part-time chief" and was out of the loop while serving in Iraq.
Doraville Mayor Ray Jenkins reinstated King and said he supports King’s plan to stay on as the city’s police chief while he commands the brigade. Jenkins said he is proud of King, adding that Doraville has a police department that is “second to none.”
Last year, King deployed to Afghanistan as deputy commander of the 48th. The brigade was focused on training Afghanistan's police and security forces, a key part of U.S. plans to stabilize that country. Because of his experience as Doraville’s police chief, the U.S. military tapped him to serve as the senior military adviser to the deputy minister of Afghanistan’s interior ministry, which oversees that nation’s police forces.
“John is definitely the right guy at the right time,” said Col. Lee Durham, who is leaving as the brigade’s commander to take another assignment. “He has trained his whole life within the 48th. He has all of the right skill sets. He will be able to take it to the next level.”
The brigade returned from its yearlong deployment in Afghanistan this year. Seven 48th soldiers were killed in action. One more died in a vehicle rollover.
Now that the brigade is home, King said he will focus on taking care of his troops and their families and helping train new members of the unit. He said he also will work to keep the brigade ready in case of any natural disasters or national security threats in Georgia.
“The challenge of our National Guard is that we have the dual mission,” King said. “So when we are not doing our federal mission, or fighting this war, we have to be ready to support our communities.”
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.