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America’s First Female African American Combat Pilot

When Capt. Vernice Armour became a Marine in 1998, she also became America's first female African American combat pilot. Armour deployed twice during her enlistment, protecting the men and women on the ground as an AH1 W SuperCobra attack helicopter pilot.

When Capt. Vernice Armour became a Marine in 1998, she also became America's first female African American combat pilot. Armour deployed twice during her time in the Corps, protecting the men and women on the ground as an AH1 W SuperCobra attack helicopter pilot.

Ever since she was young, Capt. Vernice Armour wanted to be a cop. But more than that, she wanted to speak and be a role model. It wasn’t until she became America’s first female African American combat pilot in the Marine Corps that those dreams began to come true.

Armour comes from a Marine family. Her grandfather, William Holman, was a Montford Point Marine who enlisted in 1942 and served in World War II. Her stepdad, Clarence Jackson, served three Vietnam tours as a sergeant.

Armour first became interested in the military while in college when she joined the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

“While in ROTC, I saw a woman in a flight suit,” Armour said. “After that I became very interested in aviation.”

Armour, however, didn’t seriously consider joining until she had graduated from Middle Tennessee State University and became a Nashville police officer.

“I realized I could always be a cop,” she said. “But I didn’t always have the chance to be a combat pilot.”

The Marine Corps was at the top of Armour’s list.

“I only wanted to be in the Marine Corps,” she said. “For me, it was the toughest. It was the biggest challenge.”

When Armour spoke with an Officer Selection Officer, he told her she would be the first female African American combat pilot, not just in the Marine Corps, but in all military branches.

“I said, ‘What? Are you serious?’” Armour said.

Armour would be going where few women, and most certainly no other black woman, had ever been before.

This worried Jackson, her stepdad. He had seen the way women were treated in the Corps while he served and didn’t want Armour to experience any discrimination.

But Armour knew what she had to do.

“I said, ‘Dad, if I don’t do it, who will? At some point, somebody has to step up to pave the way for everyone to move forward,’” Armour said.

Armour was aware of possible discrimination and challenges, but she was determined.

“I knew a lot would be riding on my shoulders,” Armour said. “I knew it would be hard. I knew there was a potential that there could be biases out there as well about whether women deserve to be in the Marine Corps, or combat and flying in that platform.”

Regardless, in October 1998, Armour started her historic journey at Officer Candidate School on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. Following OCS in 2001, Armour earned her gold wings and was stationed at Camp Pendleton with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 as a AH1 W SuperCobra pilot.

Although prepared to face prejudice, Armour said she didn’t notice any real discrimination.

“There is friction all the time in different places,” Armour said. “Friction is natural. When I had friction with someone it could’ve been because I had short hair, I smiled in the morning, I could bench press more than them, I rode a motorcycle, or because I’m a woman, or because I’m black. But honestly, I didn’t care because my number one goal was to focus on the mission and be the best pilot I could be.”

After Sept. 11, 2001, Armour and other combat pilots prepared for deployment.

“I knew right then my life had changed,” Armour said. “We all knew we would be going somewhere – and soon.”

For Armour, her first deployment would be in February 2003. As Armour crossed the border from Kuwait into Iraq, the reality of the situation began to sink in.

“It was so surreal because you’re not shooting at cardboard; you’re not shooting at tires and wood,” Armour said. “There were people on the ground, trying to take us out of the sky to kill us. It was a huge reality check. All the training came into laser-sharp focus.”

Suddenly gender and race didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was accomplishing the mission.

“My number one goal was to be the best pilot I could be up there in the air to protect and serve my brothers and sisters on the ground,” Armour said.

There were times during that deployment when Armour wondered how she and her comrades would make it out of certain situations, but they never doubted that they would give it their all.

“Marines don’t settle,” Armour said. “Failure’s just not an option for us.”

Armour returned from her first deployment with her new title as the first female African American combat pilot. She was deployed again to Al Asad, Iraq in 2004 with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit before separating from the Marine Corps in 2007.

The experiences Armour gained while in the Marine Corps now allow her to pursue her dream of being a role model and a motivational speaker.

“The Marine Corps prepared the platform for my purpose,” Armour said.

She has since published a book, Zero to Breakthrough, and is a traveling speaker.

Her role as the first female African American combat pilot most certainly has inspired and will continue to inspire future generations of Marines, African Americans and women to greatness.

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  • Crimson Spartan

    Thank you Capt Armour, When you win ALL OF AMERICA WINS!!! SEMPER FI!!!

  • Whitey

    How dumb are you? She’s an AA hire, they passed over hundreds of qualified applicants to fill a quota. U coult’nd  guess that,are ur surrounded with black rocket scientists.Does’nt really help White people or kids with White people 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/DA7U6R2U6S46WCOYQDQES7CCPM predestyned

    i sure as shit wouldnt wanna be in a plane she was piloting!. affirmative action ..

  • Anonymous

    This is a awesome story you need to read

  • Anonymous

    awesome story glad I read it ..

  • Amosca2000

    semper fi from one marine to another

  • http://www.facebook.com/CherylPattersonandUniversalXperience Cheryl Patterson

    A remarkable young woman and a well written story.  I enjoyed  reading it and will share it when I get more time.  Well done.

  • KAMMERERLARRY

    SEMPER FI CAPT.,A OLD MARINE HERE

  • Anette19

    This story is so inspiring for others to follow….you can see the Pride on her face.Semper-fi.

  • Beast

    Wat to go V.  We miss you out here!

    Beast

  • guest

    Ooh Rah Ma’am you motivate me

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Harding/100000538603835 Chris Harding

     No, that is a woman with, probably, an amazing intelligence!

  • Guest

    Wonderful!  Thank you for your service Captain Armour and for showing that one’s race and gender should never stand in the way of achieving one’s dreams!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Howard-Hickman/100000056587248 Howard Hickman

    @boynextdoor1985:  You’re a ass.   I thank the Captain for her for her service.  I had the pleasure of serving with many Women Marines of all colors for more than 20yrs and I was proud of each and every one of them.  The best compliment I can give them is they are Marines.   God Bless you Ladies.

  • Nilja1259

    Semper Fi.  You go girl!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kirktalon Kirk Tirakian

    Good for her. I thank her for her service. 

  • Jonesca94609

    i’M A CIVILIAN AND THOUGHT YOU ALL WERE ONLY ABOUT MILITARY BUSINESS WHEN I FIRST SAW YOUR HEADING ON FACEBOOK THIS IS A GREAT STORY AND I APPRECIATE THE OPPORTUNITY TO READ AND INVESTIGATE YOUR POSTS.

  • nazareno c. recomono

    itgives meinspiration to join also us navy aviation its my dream to be a pilot, i love airplane but im stuck here in thephilippine island i dont know when my us visa will i wish ill be there in south carolina with my eldest sisterand join the us navy there,survive here always,god bless you capt, armour youre dream come true, ill just pray to god also that my dream will also come true, god bless the united states of america

  • Ptownchampion

    You sir are a ‘DUMB ASS’!!! Sorry….,couldn’t resist.

  • Anonymous

    Why do you think it’s “amazing”? Because she’s black, or because she’s a woman? 

    Lol! Sorry, I couldn’t resist!

  • Pat M. Curd

    Thank you for your service Capt Armour, God bless you and may your future be the Brightest.
    Former Aviation Supply Officer of HMA-169, CWO-3 P.M. CURD USMC(Ret)  Semper Fidelis

  • Lassiterbob

    OORAH!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001157549134 Norma DuMont

    Awesome!!  Thank You, for your service!!  SEMPER FI!!!  Proud Mother of a US Marine!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001157549134 Norma DuMont

    Good for her!  SEMPER FI!!   Thank You, for your service!!  Proud Mother of a US Marine!!

  • Eric Stephens

    This is a fine example of why the Marine Corps is America’s premiere fighting force. Semper Fi.

  • Test

    Is that picture after enlistment?

  • ftysker

    Truly Amazing…Thank-You for your Service and sharing your Inspiration that you have shown, to prove that if you put your mind to it You can do Anything.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bruce.kennedy3 Bruce Kennedy

    Semper Fi!

  • http://www.facebook.com/bruce.kennedy3 Bruce Kennedy

    Semper Fi!