By Lenaya Stewart

WASHINGTON – Vernice Armour was four years old when she watched a police officer ride a horse in downtown Memphis. At that moment, she promised herself that she would do the same one day.

Little did she know that at a young age she was developing confidence that would push her through future barriers.

“Acknowledge the obstacles, but don’t give them power,” Armour said when asked about the hindrances that could block her dreams. She believes with the right attitude anyone can go from zero to breakthrough.

That’s what she told a group of high school students in the Urban Journalism Workshop during a recent news conference.

She said she didn’t face racial or sexist barriers to become the first African-American combat pilot in the Marine Corps. Through her military career there were numerous people who didn’t like her. She had no idea if their dislike of her was triggered by her skin color, her sex or just her, in general.

She said it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because you can’t be what people around you want you to be.

Armour was in college when she joined the ROTC program. One day, during a summer program, she saw a black woman in a flight suit. Just seeing this woman changed Armour’s whole life.

“I said, ‘Whoa, why didn’t I think of that,’ ” Armour said.

She knew from that moment on that she would have a future in aviation.

Armour eventually became the first African-American combat pilot in the Marine Corps. Her confidence was the key to her accomplishment.

Entering the Maine Corps was an obstacle unto itself.

Her parents were opposed to her entering the Marine Corps. Her stepfather, who was retired from the Marine Corps, worried that she would be mistreated while her mother worried about her safety.

Armour would not be defeated, though. She still wanted to be like the woman in the flight suit. So she headed to flight school, graduated at the top of her class in July 2001.

She wanted to fly jets, but there weren’t enough openings for that task. Instead, she began training to fly AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters.

She said she never considered giving up.

“Don’t make excuses, think of how you can make things better; and make a commitment and then a commitment to the commitment,” she said.

Her latest commitment is to form a leadership community center in Washington, D.C. She also is working on her first book titled Zero to Breakthrough.

“Self confidence gives you the freedom to make mistakes and cope with failure without feeling that your world has come to an end or that you are worthless,” she said.

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#000000;”>WASHINGTON – Anybody can overcome tough odds. Just ask Vernice Armour, America’s first African-American female combat pilot.

Compared with male combat pilots, the path to her success was not easy. In a military where males make up most of the population, there was the inevitability of sexism.

Moreover, no one in her family supported her decision to become a Marine.

Despite the obstacles, she never gave up. Her passion and confidence eventually proved everyone wrong.

“You may not be what you want to be right now,” Armour said during a recent news conference for high school students in the Urban Journalism Workshop. “We need to teach leadership.”

Using what she calls a “zero to breakthrough” mindset, she became a leader in the military and does a “fair amount” of community outreach. She says it is her dream to help the country produce leaders.

“I want to have a leadership community center in (Washington) D.C. where the kids, adults, community leaders, and also city leaders have a chance to get together. I like to call it a mentorship family of young people eight to 12 years old, teens 13 to 18 years old, adults and civic leaders,” Armour said.

“In this family, the young kids are learning from the adults and the leaders about how to be a leader when they grow up,” she added.

She said this will help others beat tough odds.


By Campbell Burr

WASHINGTON — The music blares from her Jeep Wrangler as she sits in traffic, soaking up the California sun and admiring the sparkling coastline. The cool breeze clears her nostrils as she throws her head back and smiles.

Vernice Armour, Marine Corps officer and combat pilot, has returned from her second deployment to Iraq and is glad to be alive.

Since her return in 2004, Armour has been traveling the country giving motivational speeches, including a recent news conference for high school students in the Urban Journalism Workshop.

“Acknowledge the obstacles, don’t give them power,” Armour tells her audiences.

She has overcome money, gender and racial barriers. In doing so, she became the first black female combat pilot in the Marine Corps.

Armour has always enjoyed life. She was a student at Middle Tennessee State University looking for fun and opportunity when she signed up for the ROTC Rifle Team’s free trip to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Armour didn’t have much fun in New Orleans, but she did find her passion.

Armour enlisted in the Army in 1992, and a year later she found herself in Fort Jackson doing pushups. Initially, she wasn’t interested in flying.

“I wanted to do anything where I could shoot a gun or blow something up,” she said.

During Army ROTC Leadership Training Advanced Camp, she got a glimpse of an African-American woman in a flight suit and that changed her career path. She decided to attend flight school.

Wanting to graduate at the top of her class, Armour focused on mastering every skill. She was concerned that her greatest weakness, swimming, would prevent her from achieving this. After seeking help and practicing tirelessly, she improved.

“When we know that we need a little help on something there are resources around us to help us get there,” she told the students. “I’m constantly telling people, ‘Prepare for your passion.’ ”

She graduated in July 2001, becoming the Marine Corps’ first African-American female pilot. Soon after, she moved to Camp Pendleton, Calif., to learn how to fly AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters.

Armour recounts hearing about the Sept. 11 attacks shortly after arriving to work one morning and knowing that she would be deployed. She was excited.

Armour was first deployed to Kuwait , and then Iraq .

She attributes much of her military success to her positive attitude. Her approach to every setback: “What are we going to do with the situation? Breakthrough time.”

That’s the attitude that allowed her crew to save U.S. troops in Iraq despite being low on gas and having just one missile on her Cobra. Armour circled the area until she spotted a reflection from the mirror of one of the troops on the ground pointing out her target.


By Najee Ellerbe

WASHINGTON – Vernice Armour had a passion for horses since she was 4 years old and dreamed of becoming a mounted police officer.

But that dream would be deferred while she attended Middle Tennessee State University . It was during college that she finally joined the police force in Nashville – but as a part of the motorcycle squad.

She joined the Army in 1992 under the delayed-entry program. The next fall, she signed up for Army ROTC. The military was part of her plan to become a police officer.

While in Army ROTC Leadership Training Advanced Camp, Armour saw something that would change her life — a black woman in a flight suit.

“It was a powerful image. It planted a strong, strong, strong seed. I am the blossom of that seed today”, Armour said during a recent news conference for high school students in the Urban Journalism Workshop.

She only spent five minutes talking with the woman but said the encounter motivated her to become a pilot. She calls it the “tangibility of possibility.”

Armour made her next move to turn that possibility into reality. She joined the Marine Corps.

Still unable to shake the image of the woman in the flight suit, she decided to attend aviation school in Pensacola, Fla. In a class of 12, she graduated first with honors on July 13, 2001.

Then the Sept.11 terrorists attack came. Armour was sent to Afghanistan where she flew the AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters. She served two tours in the area.

Armour, now retired, has moved her dream of becoming a mounted police officer to the front-burner.

“I have decided that the adventure must continue,” she said.

She plans to take the test to become a volunteer police officer in Washington, D.C., where she’ll work 16 hours a month, hopefully on mounted patrol.

The “adventure” also includes flying jets.

She is looking into joining the Air Guard. If she does, she will be the first African-American female to do that too.

“I’ll be a professional speaker by day, a cop by night, and a jet jock on the weekend,” she said.



By Jennifer Kuo

WASHINGTON – Vernice Armour, the first African-American female combat pilot, has succeeded in life largely because of her innovative “zero-to-breakthrough” philosophy.

The coined phrase is her signature saying: It means that people can succeed as long as they believe that they can.

“I can make it happen,” Armour said during a recent news conference for high school students in the Urban Journalism Workshop.

For example, she graduated from college despite having little money and joined the Marines against her family’s wishes. In a family of four children, she relied on Pell grants to attend Middle Tennessee State University. She majored in physical education with an emphasis in exercise science.

The philosophy helped her reach other goals, too. She became a police officer, something that intrigued her since she was 4 years old when she saw a police officer riding on a horse in Memphis where she grew up.

She joined the Marine Corps after college. But not until seeing an African-American woman in a flight suit — despite hesitance to go into flight school – did she become fascinated with flying. Armour only spoke with the woman for five minutes, but the image motivated her.

She headed to Pensacola, Fla., for flight school. She graduated at the top of her class in July 2001 and that led to the milestone of becoming the first black female combat pilot in the Marine Corps. She flew AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters.

Her zero-to-breakthrough philosophy is the subject of her upcoming book titled Zero to Breakthrough. It will put her philosophy in a business context.

Armour believes that a breakthrough mentality translates to a breakthrough organization.