Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour wanted to be a cop since she was 6 years old. She got involved in ROTC while in school and that is when she saw a black woman in a flight suit which planted a seed.
Armour become a police officer in Nashville and joined the motorcycle squad but she couldn’t forget about that woman in the flight suit. She applied to the United State Air Force four times before being accepted into flight school where she graduated first in her class in July 2001 and became the Marine Corps’ first black female pilot.
Armour did two tours in Iraq, making her America’s first black female combat pilot. She spent 9 years in the Marine Corps, moving on to the Marine Corps Headquarters to be a diversity liaison at the Pentagon in the equal opportunity division.
After making the decision to leave the Marine Corps, she started her business with the motos You have permission to engage and the Gutsy Move. Now, she is an author and keynote speaker, sharing her story and lessons on overcoming challenges, leadership, and getting gutsy.
Check out our Q&A and get your tickets now for The Frederick Speaker Series to hear Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour:
What made you want to start your own company?
When I was at Headquarters Marine Corps, I had never heard of the diversity industry and initiatives. I was a cop, a marine, and a combat pilot and was very focused on those things while I was in them but when I got to headquarters, I was going to all these conferences for women of color, women in stem, and women in aviation. These conferences were focused on helping women move forward in life and their careers. I knew I wanted to do that.
Since joining the Marine Corps, I had been speaking, but I always saw speaking as my community give back, not my career. I didn’t think about it really until these conferences where I saw people speaking professionally and thought Wait they get paid for that? I’ve been doing this all wrong. That is what prompted me to start my own company. I saw a way to have an amazing life and do my passion, which was speaking, and giving back by helping women and minorities move forward in life.
It grew into much more than that. People would see me speak and say “Oh you would be great for black history month” or “Oh you should speak for women’s history month” and I thought okay I get to speak two months out of the year and white guys get all 12? What’s that about? I fought very hard not to be put in this box of a diversity speaker because my message, my lessons, and my leadership were great for everyone, not just women and minorities. I am much more than what my outside represents.
What do you think helped you most in your success?
A clear vision. Followed by taking action.
I won’t ever say a plan. A plan was just the next step. Many times I didn’t have a full plan of what I was going to do. When I wanted to get out of the Marine Corps and start my own business, my first step was to resign my commission. I remember getting my approval in early January and my last day was going to be June 1st. I remember thinking Holy crap, I better figure out how t0 be an entrepreneur and a speaker because I didn’t have a plan for that. It was 100% clear that was what I wanted to do. That doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. Some people want to know the whole plan. It is my belief that that mindset can hinder a lot of people from moving forward because they don’t have a full plan.
Dr. King has an amazing quote – “You don’t have to see the entire staircase to take the first step”
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced?
Some of the biggest challenges I faced up to age 35 or 40 would be other people not believing I could do it, whatever It was.
There was some reason the Marine Corps didn’t accept me those first three times, and I was a very highly qualified woman. When I got on the motorcycle squad with the Nashville PD, I found out that all the guys had their motorcycles for 2 weeks but they only let me pick up my motorcycle two days before training. When I asked why, they said they didn’t know if I would be able to handle the bike. These things are huge disadvantages because the guys got to practice on their bikes before the training and I only had two days.
When I was starting my company, I went and talked to one of the Small Business Deveoplmmet Centers. The woman who was advising me, a black woman whose advice I followed, told me not to start an LLC. I found out later from my accountant that I should have started an LLC to take certain tax advantages. I ended up running into that woman a few years later and asked her why she gave me that advice. She said to me “oh baby, I didn’t think you were going to make it and I didn’t want you to waste your money.”
The biggest challenge was navigating people’s disbelief and having to discern when people are just giving you information based on their beliefs or if they are giving you actual information and letting you decide what road to take.
My Colonel sat me down and said “Captain Armour, don’t you know, speakers aren’t even happy when they’re not on stage?” Seriously? Did he say that to me?
But that happened at every stage. People didn’t want me to be a police officer. They tried to talk me out of the Marine Corps. There were friends and advisors that wanted to talk me out of flying Cobras. People tried to talk me out of leaving the Marine Corps and starting a company. Every step of the way, there was someone that had my “best interest” at heart that gave me guidance, saying “Don’t do what you are getting ready to do”.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of still being me. My little kid. I’m corny, I believe I’m funny, I love to have fun. I didn’t get jaded through the process of being a police officer and being on the streets, being in the Marine Corps and going to war, or even being an entrepreneur. Less than 2% of women and minorities have access to capital. So I am most proud of staying unrealistic and going for what I want. Whether it was a healthy relationship, a kid that I had to do IVF for, or becoming a black female pilot in the Marine Corps when no one had done it before. The list goes on.
What advice would you give our readers?
In order to be successful, you gotta get gutsy. I think that’s the biggest part of being unrealistic. People say “Oh that took courage” or “That took balls”. The things that many of us want to do is going to take courage and guts because many times we have this huge amazing goal and to go for it means something is at stake, even if it is our pride or fear of failure.
Acknowledge what you want, what you really want, and go for it! Even if you don’t have a full plan. Start. That can be all at once or starting it on the side but be willing to take action, no matter what is.
What inspires you?
Each breath. Cause it is not promised
I have counterparts, friends, brothers and sisters, that didn’t come back from Iraq, and the most inspiring thing to me is the next breath. The breath I have right now and waking up in the morning with another day to get it right and do it better. If we are here, we can make a difference. We have the opportunity to make a difference.
There are always times when we need support. I didn’t teach myself how to be a cop, a marine, a pilot and I didn’t teach myself how to be an entrepreneur. I had many many coaches so my offer to folks is that I believe in paying it forward and how I can help others in the way I have been helped so please reach out to me on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, because I do not want the conversion to end here, I want it to keep going.
Get Tickets Now for The Frederick Speaker Series to hear Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour
Katy is an entrepreneur, a social media know it all, and a lover of all the vintage things. She started Katy's Flower Wagon in 2020, having recently sold that business to pursue other creative endeavors. She has been working with Sass Magazine as well as local businesses as a social media manager. You can catch her around town snapping pictures, collaborating with local businesses, and working on all things Sass!
Fun facts -
1. She went to University of Maryland
2. She has a dog sidekick named Stitch
3. She shares a birthday with Julie Andrew's
4. You should follower her @adventuresinkatyland