Black Female Pilot Breaks Racial, Gender Barriers

Vernice 'Flygirl' Armour, the first African American female combat pilot, stands in front of a helicopter. i i

Vernice 'Flygirl' Armour, the first African American female combat pilot, stands in front of a helicopter. Doby Photography hide caption

itoggle caption Doby Photography
Vernice 'Flygirl' Armour, the first African American female combat pilot, stands in front of a helicopter.

Vernice 'Flygirl' Armour, the first African American female combat pilot, stands in front of a helicopter.

Doby Photography

There is no challenge too big for former Marine Corps Captain Vernice Armour. She plays football and the trombone. She rides horses and motorcycles. She achieved her childhood dream of becoming a cop, and then became the first African-American female combat pilot.

Armour flew the meanest helicopter in the U.S. military — the Super Cobra, which earned her the nickname 'Flygirl.' Guest host Allison Keyes talks with Vernice 'Flygirl' Armour about her achievements and her new book, Zero to Breakthrough: The 7-Step Battle-Tested Method for Accomplishing Goals That Matter.

Excerpt: 'Zero To Breakthrough'

Zero to Breakthrough
Zero to Breakthrough
By Vernice Armour
Hardcover, 288 pages
Gotham
List Price $25

It was the end of one of those days. I'd worked really hard and was totally beat, but it was a good thing because the day had been productive. It was more than ten years ago, and I was interning as a personal trainer at a gym in Columbus, Ohio. The weight room had been busy, and there were plenty of clients to help. My car sputtered into the driveway; it was on its last leg. Now that I was home, all I wanted to do was put my feet up and chill. I checked my postbox and was happy to see that a friend had forwarded me a big yellow envelope filled with mail from Tennessee, as she had been doing every few weeks for the past few months.

I put my bag down and flipped through the contents — flyers, postcards from friends and family, and a few bills. Then I noticed the official seal of the City of Nashville in the left-hand corner of one envelope. I had taken the Nashville Civil Servants Exam more than a year ago, in hopes of jumping through the first hoop of getting into the Police Academy. "Wow," I thought, shaking my head, "the wheels of progress sure turn slowly." I anxiously ripped it open and read the contents.

"Dear Ms. Armour, Congratulations," and "come in for the next phase of testing" popped out at me. My heart sank when another phrase jumped off the page: "The next test is March 13 ... " It was March 22. I had missed my chance! My dream since childhood was to become a cop, and it had just slipped through my fingers, not forever but at least for another year. How much time would go by before the next opportunity?

Not much, as it turned out. I quickly glanced at what was left of the stack and noticed a second letter with the distinctive blue and gold seal. "Since you were unable to attend the March 13 test, you can take the March 23 test ... " I dropped the letter. It was March 22. Tomorrow. Okay. I'm exhausted. It's six o'clock. I haven't eaten dinner. My old clunker won't make the six-hour trip. I have about five hundred dollars in the bank — and five dollars in my pocket. I had clients to take care of at the gym the next day. No problem! I was very aware of what I had to do next.

I picked up the phone and called a friend. "Nadine, I need to borrow your car for a couple of days." After a few minutes of begging — I was not letting her off the line until she agreed to give me the keys to what was my future — she said yes. Early the next morning I made the drive to Nashville, arrived on time for the afternoon test, took it, and not that long after (this time it didn't take a year to get my results) found out I was eligible to enter the Academy. I did — and within two years I was the first African-American woman to be a Nashville motorcycle officer. Zero to Breakthrough.

The effort it took to get to Nashville wasn't a big deal. Whatever I had to do, whatever it cost me was worth it, because my burning desire to become a cop trumped everything else at that time. I knew it was a great training ground for my ultimate purpose in life: to help people.

Is there anything you think about that oft en, that you would make an at-any-cost effort for? Would you make the kind of leap I made to get to Nashville for the job you're doing now? The yes or no answer to that question tells you whether you are living your passion with umph — drive and enthusiasm. If you answered yes, congratulations. You aren't stuck — you're moving! If you said no, then this chapter is for you. I'm going to help you become conscious and aware of exactly what your umph is. As you may already know, each one of us has something to offer — and it's usually found in what we truly love doing. In fact, no one else before you or after you has what you have in terms of talent and perspective. If you're not feeling your umph, you're probably not using your gifts to their fullest potential.

From Zero to Breakthrough by Vernice Armour. Copyright 2011 by Vernice Armour. Excerpted by permission of Gotham Books, Penguin USA.

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