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.


Founded in 1975, the Washington Association of Black Journalists is an organization of Black journalists, journalism professors, public relations professionals and student journalists in the D.C., metro area. WABJ provides members with ongoing professional education opportunities and advocates for greater diversification of the profession.