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Marine combat pilot: Never give up

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Home at Camp Pendleton in California after her second tour of duty in Iraq, Capt. Vernice Armour and a young Marine started talking about their latest deployments.

He told her how enemy mortar fire had pinned his squad in a cemetery at An Najaf, south of Baghdad, until a U.S. helicopter swooped in and blew up the mortar position.

Armour remembered that engagement. Attached to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, she was in charge of piloting an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter when her crew got the call to support a squad of infantrymen at a cemetery.

“The air controller wasn’t able to mark the target with anything visual,” she said, “so he had to give us a verbal description.”

Once her crew identified the building where the mortars were coming from, they set up an attack run, fired a missile and rockets and destroyed the position.

Now, back at the Marine Corps base at Pendleton, Armour and the young Marine realized they we re describing the same mission. He looked at her solemnly and said, “Ma’am, you saved my life.”

Armour, the first black female combat pilot in U.S. military history, says the soldier reconfirmed her purpose: to support our troops. “That’s our sole mission.”

How did she get there? Armour says, “I wanted to be a cop since I was 3 years old.” She had taken a job as a city police officer while still a junior in college.

Meanwhile, she joined the reserves and enrolled in ROTC, where one day in summer advance camp she spotted a black woman in a flight suit. That was it.

In July 2001, Armour led a dozen graduates of her flight training class at a naval air station in Florida, topping the scores of the previous 200 pilots trained there. She also won the female athlete of the year award at Camp Pendleton and the women’s Strongest Warrior competition in 2001 and 2002.

The key to success, Armour says, is persistence. “Whatever it is, there’s an obstacle. I have to go under it, over it. I’m not just going to give up.”

—Adapted from “Duty Bound,” Lucas Johnson II, The Crisis.

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