Thursday, May 10, 2012

Vernice Armour Comes to Caspar

From Vernice Armour Comes to Caspar

Vernice Armour, 38, is America's first African American female combat pilot and a former captain with the U.S. Marines. She served two tours in Iraq, earning an Air Medal with a star for valor and 13 Strike Flight awards, a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, a Navy Presidential Unit Citation and other awards. She flew an AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter. She will be the keynote speaker at the Promoting Our Women Warriors Of Wyoming event on May 19 in Casper. The Casper Star-Tribune recently caught up with her by telephone from her home in Stafford, Va. Casper Star Tribune: Where did you grow up? Armour: She was born in Chicago, but lived in California until she was in the fourth grade, where she learned to love and ride horses. Her family then moved to Memphis, Tenn. "California has always been a special place for me," she said. "I'd go out all day with my friends and just discover. We were looking for places that people hadn't been yet. I still remember that feeling of adventure and discovery. And I think it has definitely had a huge part to do with my sense of spirit and adventure and discovery and creating those breakthroughs now as an adult. There are still so many places and so many things in our lives that we have yet to do. That sheer childlike excitement of doing it is alive and well." CST: Did you always want to fly? Armour: "I did not. I wanted to be a police officer that rode a horse downtown -- mounted patrol," she said. She attended Middle Tennessee State University on student loans and Pell Grants, joining the women's ROTC rifle team to earn a free trip to Mardi Gras. She figured the military would be a great foundation for her police career and joined the Army Reserves. "The next year, I was doing ROTC training, leadership school. It was career day and I saw a black woman in a flight suit. I said, ‘Wow. That is cool,'" she said. "I still went on to become a police officer. And I rode a steel horse downtown. But I never forgot about that woman in that flight suit. "So after a couple of years on the force, I didn't want any what ifs. I said, 'I could always be a cop. I won't always have the opportunity to be a combat pilot.'" At 25, she left the Tempe, Ariz., Police Department and joined the Marines. She went from cop to combat pilot in three years. CST: What was it like to be the only woman in your flight classes? Armour: In 1991, Congress repealed the law that banned women from flying combat, and in 1993, the Marine Corps opened pilot positions to women. In 1999, when Armour was training, she was the only woman in her classes. "I have three brothers. I played the trombone section. I was in the Army (Reserve). I was a motorcycle cop. You know, everywhere I went I was pretty much one of the only women. To me it wasn't any different than just being in another place where I just had to make sure I pulled my weight and did the best that I could do," she said. "I like doing things that excite me and that I feel are adventurous and fun. The things that I felt were adventurous and fun just happened to not have a whole lot of women doing them. Blazing the trail became a byproduct of me just wanting to live an adventurous, juicy, breakthrough life." CST: What do you hope women veterans take from your talk in Casper? Armour: "That they can have the juicy, exciting, adventurous life -- full of meaning and fulfillment -- that they've always dreamed of. And they can accomplish it with bravery, courage and power.

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