Combat Pilot Encourages ATEC Lecture Audience to Fly Past Adversity

  • Vernice Armour (left), the U.S. Marine Corps' first African-American female combat pilot, meets with Lisa McNeme, assistant director of the Veteran Services Center at UT Dallas. McNeme was a B-52 pilot in the Air Force.

Vernice Armour faced plenty of obstacles along the path to becoming the U.S. Marine Corps’ first African-American female combat pilot.

Armour, known as “FlyGirl,” told the audience at the Arts and Technology (ATEC) Distinguished Lecture Series event on March 22 that she applied a few times before the Marines accepted her. She also failed her flight test on the first attempt.

Dressed in a khaki flight uniform and leather jacket, Armour gave an energetic talk about how she stayed focused on her mission to become an attack helicopter pilot and then served two tours in Iraq. She repeatedly encouraged audience members to pursue their dreams and keep moving forward in the face of adversity.

“Flight school was hard. Police academy was hard. Becoming a Marine was hard,” Armour said.

She recalled a time when she wanted to quit flight school, but her mother told her to dry her eyes and get back to work because she had worked too hard to give up.

“When we hit the challenges and obstacles, what’s your live-by phrase? What is it that moves you through that situation?” Armour asked. “Challenges and obstacles are inevitable. How you navigate and manage those challenges and obstacles, that’s the key.”

During her talk, Armour said that she has been asked many times if she faced discrimination along the way.

“When I felt friction or tension, it could have been for any reason,” Armour said. “Friction and tension are normal. They’re going to happen. However, we cannot afford to lose focus, cannot let drama affect our goals. When you let drama or outside things take you off course, what are you putting at stake, personally or professionally?”

She told the crowd not to wait for clearance to pursue their dreams, and challenged them to “create the breakthrough” themselves.

“There aren’t any ground controllers in life,” Armour said. “It’s up to you to give yourself permission to engage.”

Among her many breakthroughs, Armour was the first African-American woman on Nashville’s motorcycle police squad. She has played for the San Diego Sunfire women’s professional football team. In flight school, Armour made the Naval Air Station’s prestigious Commodore’s List, received the Academic Achievement Award and was the top graduate of her class. After retiring from the Marines, she founded VAI Consulting and Training LLC. She also has written a book, Zero to Breakthrough, and appeared on a variety of programs including The Oprah Winfrey Show and The View.


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