Living Inspiration: First Black Female Combat Pilot and Author Vernice Armour

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Did you face any type of discrimination while you were in the military?

What I say and this is the truth, is that I know I dealt with situations that I know people did not like me. If I came to work on Monday and found out there was a party on Friday that didn’t feel good. Or if I’m walking down the hall and someone didn’t talk to me, that didn’t feel good either. Everyone has had friction in different relationships or arguments, even with the person they’re involved with. When people ask me this I honestly say, everybody has arguments and friction in different places.

Somebody could not have liked me because I had short hair, because I could bench press more than he could, because I had a motorcycle, because I smiled in the morning or because I was black or because I was a woman.  And honestly, I didn’t know. And I didn’t try to figure it out. I didn’t care. Because then I would have been taking my power, my focus off of what I was there to do, which was be the best pilot I could, instead of trying to figure out why somebody didn’t say hello to me in the morning.  That’s where I came up with, ‘acknowledge the obstacles, don’t give them power.’ It’s like that? Fine. What do I need to do to still accomplish the mission.

I’ve heard you say a couple of times that you stand on people’s shoulders. For people who might not be familiar with that expression, tell us what that means and who’s shoulders are you standing on.

So standing on someone’s shoulders is coming up in the world, building on a legacy. Someone had to lay the foundation for me to be able to do what I’m doing. So, Dr. King, Harriet Tubman, before him, have all paved the way, all the women Marines, who enlisted or were commissioned in the Marine Corp before I came along. All the African Americans, General Petersen, who was the very first African American aviator in the Marine Corp. So that’s what I’m talking about when I say standing on those shoulders, those who laid the road for me to be able to walk down, or blaze that trail. And at certain point, when the road came to an end, I had to continue blazing a trail for others to follow behind me.

Tell us about your mindset, how did you get through living and working in such a hostile environment?

That’s where the “breakthrough mentality” came in. And I know there are all the little sayings and quotes and lingo “zero to breakthrough.” But that stuff isn’t just marketing for me, it came out of my blood. The breakthrough mentality, simply put the definition is refusing to settle, even in the smallest of moments and demanding a breakthrough experience. There were many times where I wanted to do things in my life and if I didn’t make it the first time, I didn’t just give up because I really wanted it. And my granny always said, ‘anything worth having is worth working for.’ And I knew that to be true. Call me rebel with a cause, rebel without a cause sometimes. Even when my parents didn’t want me to do or people told me not to do it.  Like being a cobra pilot, a lot of people told me, ‘maybe go for something else because cobra pilots are pretty tough on each other. Cobra pilots eat their young. Am I sure I want to be in that type of environment?’ And again I said I want to fly cobras so I’m not going to let people’s personalities dissuade me from what I want to do. So it was really just a healthy dose of refusing to settle and really going for what I truly want in life.

And to be honest, Veronica, I think some of that refusing to settle, came from being a teenager and then in college– I was afraid to grow up and become an adult. It scared me to death. Number 1, taxes. Everybody had horror stories about taxes.  I knew once I became an adult, I’d have to pay taxes. I had no clue what they were or how they worked but I knew it was a horrible thing.  Then there was working…everyday. You don’t get summers off. You have to go to work everyday and most people are miserable on Sunday night and they complain about their jobs throughout the week. I did not look forward to working. And when I got a job in college, I don’t think I kept one job more than three months except for Taco Pronto.  And it scared me to death to know that I was going to have to work and be miserable for the rest of my life.

And then when I became a police officer it was like the heavens opened up. This is amazing! It was fun, it was exciting, it was adventurous. All the folks on the police department were like my big brothers and big sisters. We looked out for each other. We were a family. I couldn’t wait to go to work in the morning or at night. That was a life changing moment for me to know that life didn’t have to be miserable. And because I worked to so hard to get into the police department, I said wow what if I’d settled and just done one of those other jobs. I could have been miserable for the rest of my life. For what I want it’s definitely worth creating that breakthrough.

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