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Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour: America’s 1st black woman combat pilot

Women’s History Month
Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour: America’s 1st black woman combat pilot

by PRIDE Newsdesk

Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour

Vernice Armour is a former United States Marine Corps officer. She was the first African American female naval aviator in the Marine Corps, and was America’s first black female combat pilot in the U.S. Armed Forces. Captain Armour flew the AH-1W SuperCobra attack helicopter in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and served two tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Armour was born in 1973 in Chicago, Illinois to Gaston Armour Jr. and Authurine Armour. After her parents divorced, Clarence Jackson married Authurine. Both her father and her stepfather had served in the military. Gaston Armour retired as a major in the U.S. Army Reserve, and Clarence Jackson, a former Marine Corps sergeant, served three tours in Vietnam. Her grandfather was a Montford Point Marine; they were the first African Americans to integrate the Marine Corps, between 1942 and 1949.

Raised in Memphis, Tennessee, she graduated from John Overton High School for Creative and Performing Arts (not to be confused with Nashville’s Overton High) in 1991. There she was very active in the music program, was class vice president, a member of Mu Alpha Theta mathematics honor society, and The National Honor Society.

In 1993, while a student at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), Armour enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves, and later entered into the U.S. Army’s ROTC. During an Army ROTC career day, the seed of becoming a pilot was planted when Vernice saw the image of a young Black female in an Army flight suit. “Now why didn’t I think of that!” was her first thought!

In June of 1996, after a brief stint as a Nashville Sheriff’s Department correctional officer, Vernice took a break from college to accept an invitation to the Nashville Police Academy. She graduated in December 1996 – and later became the first female African-American and woman of color on the Nashville Police Department’s motorcycle squad.

Armour graduated from MTSU in December of 1997 with her B.S. in Physical Education: Emphasis in Exercise Science. In 1998, Armour became the first African American female to serve as a police officer in Tempe, Arizona before joining the U.S. Marines as an Officer Candidate in October 1998. With the aviation seed in full bloom, Vernice was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps on December 12, 1998, and on her way to flight school at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas and later Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.

Earning her wings in July 2001, Armour was not only number one in her class of twelve, she was number one among the last two hundred graduates. She made the Naval Air Station’s prestigious Commodore’s List, received the Academic Achievement Award. She became the Marine Corps’ first African-American female pilot. After flight school, Armour was assigned to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton near San Diego, California for training in the AH-1W SuperCobra. While at Camp Pendleton, she was named 2001 Camp Pendleton’s “Female Athlete of the Year”, twice won the Camp’s annual Strongest Warrior Competition, and was a running back for the San Diego Sunfire women’s football team.

In March 2003, she flew with HMLA-169 during the invasion of Iraq becoming America’s first black female combat pilot. Vernice flew above the deserts of Iraq in her missile-equipped attack helicopter, engaging the enemy and scouting the roads from her cockpit, making sure they were safe for her fellow Marines and soldiers on the ground. She completed two combat tours in the Gulf. Afterwards, she was assigned to the Manpower and Reserve Affairs Equal Opportunity Branch as program liaison officer.

After leaving the U.S. Marine Corps in June 2007, Armour launched VAI Consulting and Training, LLC, beginning a career as a professional speaker and expert on creating breakthroughs in life. In 2011, her book Zero to Breakthrough: The 7-Step, Battle-Tested Method for Accomplishing Goals that Matter was published. As her newest business venture, in 2020 FlyGirl started FlyGirl Construction, a General Contracting Firm in the Atlanta, GA area.

FlyGirl has two honorary doctorates and has received numerous awards as a pioneering pilot, including honors for her commanding role in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Vernice now resides in Atlanta, GA with her daughter Noah.

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