HER Magazine is committed to sharing the experiences of successful women because we understand that just one image, one story, or one encounter, can create the spark that inspires another woman to achieve success.
For Vernice Armour, the spark was lit long ago during Career Day, while she was attending a leadership camp at Ft. Bragg. At the time, Armour was a student in college, involved in the Army ROTC program. “I saw a black woman in a flight suit, and it planted a seed of possibility within me,” says Armour of the memory.
Over the years, that seed grew while Armour became a police officer in the city of Nashville – the first African-American woman on the motorcycle squad. Two years later, she made history again as the first African-American woman to serve as a police officer on the Tempe, Arizona police force.
Along the way, Armour never forgot her dream. “I became a naval aviator and combat pilot by first applying to Officer Candidate School (OCS) to become a Marine,” she explains.
“Women can only apply once a year, and after four years and three applications, I was finally accepted.” From OCS, Armour says she went to flight school in Corpus Christi, Texas. “Next, I completed a brief stint in the President’s helicopter squadron before heading off to flight school again, this time in Pensacola, Florida.”
Armour was ranked number one in her class, and when she graduated with her “Wings of Gold” on July 21st, 2001, she became the Marine Corps’ first African-American woman pilot. Armour then completed two tours in Iraq, becoming America’s first woman combat pilot.
In total, she was enlisted for five years in the Army Reserve, and spent nine years of active duty in the Marine Corps (including the two tours in Iraq) before departing the Marines as a Captain.
While her achievements are monumental, Armour is the picture of humility. “I am standing on a lot of shoulders,” she says, “because I didn’t get here by myself — from the Tuskegee Airmen paving the way to the first black female pilots who served to open the door for me.”
When she first became a pilot, Armour actually shunned the spotlight because the attention alienated her from guys in the squadron. “But, at the end of the day, I wanted to be a positive role model for all girls and boys alike, which meant sharing my story, so I could be that ‘tangibility of the possibility’ like that woman was for me so many years ago.”
So, what is Armour doing now? “I am sharing my story from a different battlefield and I’m flying the microphone,” she says, laughing. “After my tours in Iraq, my next orders sent me to Marine Corps headquarters to serve as a Diversity Officer Liaison to the Pentagon as a member of the Equal Opportunity section.”
Armour says she realized that women and minorities needed to be exposed to the many opportunities available in aviation, and she decided to use her platform to increase awareness. “In August 2007, I departed the Marine Corps to start my company as an inspirational leadership speaker.”
Since Armour has an engaging, charismatic presence, it’s a natural fit. “Donned in an authentic flight suit, I run into rooms of hundreds or thousands of people sharing the message of engagement (you have permission to engage), accomplishing the mission (one mission, one goal, one team), and gutsy leadership — in order to be successful, you’ve got to get gutsy!”
Her impressive list of clients includes NASA, Boeing, PepsiCo, IBM, and Bank of America. Armour has also been featured on CNN, Oprah Winfrey, and NPR.
She is a huge advocate of STEM/STEAM because she understands that the country’s success collectively and individually depends on workers with skills in these areas. “Our kids are going to school for jobs that don’t even exist yet,” Armour explains. “In order for our young leaders to be prepared for what is to come, it is imperative that they get exposure to STEM/STEAM careers early on as they select the courses and direction in which they want their lives to go.”
Armour has also written a book, Zero to Breakthrough: The 7-Step, Battle-Tested Method for Accomplishing Goals that Matter. What does that phrase mean, and what message does the book send? “Zero to Breakthrough came from me looking at my experience of going from beat cop to combat pilot in three years.” Armour says it doesn’t have to take forever to achieve a goal – in fact, goals can be achieved quickly. “The book is my perspective on how to accomplish goals that matter, outlined in a 7-step process broken down into a series of actions, along with the all-important mindset reminders to help people create breakthroughs on the job and in their personal lives.”
Advice for Women Leaders/Entrepreneurs
While Armour mentors and coaches a variety of groups, she has a special message for women. “Stop doubting yourself and make your gutsy move with courage, power, and grit.” She believes that women often hesitate, but says, “In your gut, you know it’s right, it takes guts to do it, and you have to take action, because it’s not a gutsy thought, it’s a gutsy move!”
When Armour was in the military, she explains that in the heat of battle, combat pilots couldn’t release their weapons until they received permission from the ground controller. “Here at home, there are no ground controllers in life; you are your ground controller,” Armour says. “If you don’t give yourself permission, who will?”
This piece originally appeared in our Spring issue, below. Click here to read more!