ujw_armour1By Cara Bernard

WASHINGTON – Vernice Armour has overcome many obstacles in her life, but clearly, she’s not afraid of a challenge.

That’s why she’s the first female African-American combat pilot.

Though Armour’s accomplishments are many, one of the main philosophies that helped her progress is the belief that anyone can do anything by working for it.

Pushing through against the odds has been a hallmark of Armour’s life. Her story and the lessons it teaches inspires many people, whether jetting across the sky in a Cobra attack helicopter or not.

“Acknowledge the obstacles in life, don’t give them power.” Armour, 35, said during a recent news conference for high school students in the Urban Journalism Workshop.

It’s an idea first introduced to Armour at a young age. When she was only 4 years old she was inspired by the vision of a police officer riding a horse downtown.

With her love for horses and her experience growing up the only girl in a house with three brothers, a dream like this wasn’t farfetched.

But the future for this tomboy was nothing Armour could imagine.

When she finished high school, Armour enrolled in college despite the fact that she had no way to pay for it.

“Money is not the decision-maker” she told the students.

Little did she know, enrolling in college would provide her an opportunity that would change her life forever. It started with an advertisement for a free trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

“I saw the flyer, and I was like, ‘Alright,’ ” she said.

There was a little catch: The trip was free if you joined the ROTC Rifle Team.

Armour wasn’t turned off. She had been around plenty of military people. Her father was a major in the Army Reserve, her stepfather was a Marine who served in Vietnam and her grandfather was a Montford Point Marine.

Her stepfather, afraid she would face sexism in the military, was not supportive at first.

“It was tough,” Armour said, who went on to join the ROTC.

At a ROTC training camp, Armour was walking with a friend when she saw an African-American woman in a flight suit. The image was powerful enough to keep her attention even after returning to civilian life.

So she enrolled in flight school and gave it her all. Armour graduated from flight school first in her class of 12 in July 2001 and became the Marine Corps’ first black female pilot.

About two months later, the nation was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11.

“We were no longer training just to train,” she said.

Armour was deployed to Iraq soon after, presenting her with a new battle.

Being the only woman in her unit, Armour sometimes felt lonely and isolated. But she didn’t shrink from that one either.

“We’re in school every day and there’s a lesson for us every day,” she said.

Her lesson that day, “Sometimes you have to step up and include yourself.”


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.