America's First Female African
American Combat Pilot
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
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
“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.
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