Washington Watch: Gabrielle Giffords Steps Down, Plus Vernice Armour The First Black Female Combat Pilot (VIDEO) | Roland Martin Reports

Washington Watch: Gabrielle Giffords Steps Down, Plus Vernice Armour The First Black Female Combat Pilot (VIDEO)

On Wednesday, Gabrielle Giffords officially resigned from the House of Representatives, but not before getting a final bill passed and causing cheers and tears throughout the House, but also the nation.

That kind of determination is inspiring to everyone, no matter your race, religion, gender or political affiliation. Now, we all have a little Gabby Giffords in us, but how do you find it when you’ve done everything you can and find yourself up against a brick wall?

Vernice Armour is no stranger to challenges. She is the first African-American female combat pilot, and she uses what she learned about conquering her own obstacles to help us conquer ours. She’s also the author of Zero to Breakthrough.

MR. MARTIN:  A little more than a year ago, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head at close range during a campaign event in her home state of Arizona.  Well, this week, she announced her resignation in a web video.

[VIDEO CLIP.]

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS:  Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover.  I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week.  I’m getting better every day.  My spirit is high.

[END OF VIDEO.]

MR. MARTIN:  On Wednesday, she officially resigned from the House of Representatives, but not before getting a final bill passed and causing cheers and tears throughout the House, but also the nation.

That kind of determination is inspiring to everyone, no matter your race, religion, gender or political affiliation.  Now, we all have a little Gabby Giffords in us, but how do you find it when you’ve done everything you can and find yourself up against a brick wall?

Well, my next guest is no stranger to challenges.  She is the first African-American female combat pilot, and she uses what she learned about conquering her own obstacles to help us conquer ours.  She’s the author of Zero to Breakthrough, and she’s here with us today.

Vernice Armour, we certainly welcome  you to “Washington Watch.”

MS. VERNICE ARMOUR:  Love it!

MR. MARTIN:  All right, then.

So, first of all, tell us about ju- — “combat pilot.”  Did you –

MS. ARMOUR:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — just wake up and say, “Yeah, I wanna blow some stuff up.”

MS. ARMOUR:  I did!

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MS. ARMOUR:  No.  [Laughs.]

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

MS. ARMOUR:  No, actually, I was born in Chicago, and I wanted to be a police officer that rode a horse downtown – mounted patrol.  But along the way – you know, going to college, I didn’t have any money for school.  And when I got there, not having any money, when I saw that flyer that said “free trip to Mardi Gras,” I said, “That fits the budget.”

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

MS. ARMOUR:  I didn’t see the fine print that said, “Join the women’s ROTC rifle team.”

MR. MARTIN:  Uh-huh.

MS. ARMOUR:  But, you know, I made the decision; and I found something that could help me –

MR. MARTIN:  At what school?

MS. ARMOUR:  — Middle Tennessee State –

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.  All right.

MS. ARMOUR:  — University.  And the military, I felt, could help me prepare for being a pi- — you know, the – excuse me – in the military, ‘cause you couldn’t be a cop ’til you were 21.  I was 18.

MR. MARTIN:  Um-hum.

MS. ARMOUR:  So, for me, at that point, it was about leveraging what I felt was a strategic advantage – and ended up seeing a Black woman in a flight suit at a career day, and I said, “Whoa!”

Now, mind you, before I went in the aviation tent, I didn’t want to go.  I said, “Black people don’t fly.”

MR. MARTIN:  Now, had you – had you flown before?  Had you –

MS. ARMOUR:  Well, on commercial airplanes –

MR. MARTIN:  — okay.  All right.

MS. ARMOUR:  — but you don’t see Black pilots.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. ARMOUR:  Right?  So, my world and association with African-Americans – or just minorities, period – flying, I said[?] –

MR. MARTIN:  Wait a minute.  So –

MS. ARMOUR:  — that wasn’t –

MR. MARTIN:  — so, even though –

MS. ARMOUR:  — my world.

MR. MARTIN:  — you were from Chicago – Betsy Coleman right there –

MS. ARMOUR:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — from Chicago, the pioneering –

MS. ARMOUR:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — female aviator –

MS. ARMOUR:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — but, then, all of a sudden – obviously, you learned about her later on –

MS. ARMOUR:  Correct.

MR. MARTIN:  — in life.

MS. ARMOUR:  Correct.

MR. MARTIN:  So, you go into this g- — so, you go into the military.  All of a sudden, you step in, and then what happens?  I mean are you the only woman in the class?  Are you the only African-American?  Give a sense of what that experience was like, going through that training process.

MS. ARMOUR:  Well, going through the training process, you know, it’s challenging, and people say, “Oh, did you suffer from discrimination and racism and sexism?”

I said, you know, i- – it’s all hard.  Even the average White guy has obstacles.  You know, everybody has obstacles.  But the truth is, you know, acknowledge the obstacles.  Don’t give them power.  So, yes, I was the only female in my Marine class and one of four to, you know, fly the cobra; and, yes, the first Black female pilot for the Marine Corps.

MR. MARTIN:  What was it like, though, to be behind the – just in that cockpit?

MS. ARMOUR:  Now, believe it or not, that’s one of the questions I get asked the most – Facebook, Twitter –

MR. MARTIN:  Right, right.

MS. ARMOUR:  — in person – it doesn’t matter.  Not, you know, “What was combat like?”  “What was it like, flying that attack” –

MR. MARTIN:  No, but –

MS. ARMOUR:  — “helicopter?”

MR. MARTIN:  — it – but – but it had to be a rush.

MS. ARMOUR:  Like a roller coaster without wheels.

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MS. ARMOUR:  Amazing.  I loved it.  You know, flying – there’s nothing like flying – you know?

MR. MARTIN:  Do you often have young women who’re reaching out to you, saying, “Look, I would love to do this as well”?  And so how are you reaching out to that next generation and get[ting] them excited about this?

MS. ARMOUR:  Gotcha.  Well, by virtue of what I do – you know, I’m a professional speaker, and I travel around at leadership conferences quite a bit, and I do speak at some schools.  So, for me, it’s that tangibility of the possibility.  Just like I saw the woman in that –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. ARMOUR:  — day, hopefully, the young folks will see me and say, “You know, there’re other possibilities.  Maybe not being a pilot, but I hadn’t thought of that.  What else haven’t I thought of?”  You know, the movie “Red Tails” – the same thing:  re-energizing, reinvigorating that American spirit about “What can we do?”  No obstacles –

MR. MARTIN:  Now, we’re –

MS. ARMOUR:  — [crosstalk].

MR. MARTIN:  — going to have a little show and tell, so, camera, zoom in here so you s- — you’ve got “Redtail” on here,

MS. ARMOUR:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  But get a shot of that.  And so while they zoom in to do that, what’s going to happen is we’re going to show it t- — we have a clip.  You[’ve] got it on the back as well?  All right.  Work it out!  Work it out!  All right.

So, here’s a clip of the Tuskegee Airmen right now.

[BRIEF FILM CLIP FROM “RED TAILS, THEN VIDEO CLIP/COMMENTARY FROM TUSKEGEE AIRMAN DR. ROSCOE BROWN.]

DR. ROSCOE BROWN:  We did escort bombers without losing many bombers.  We shot down planes.  We blew up trains.  We blew up destroyers.

We had to fight to fight, because many of the generals – not many; a couple of them – didn’t want us to have that opportunity.  Not so much didn’t want – they didn’t  believe.  In fact, there was a military study in 1925 that said Blacks didn’t have the intelligence, the coordination, or the leadership ability to be pilots.

When you work hard, and you struggle for excellence, you can overcome prejudice.  You can overcome obstacles, and that’s the message.  And I want to say the message to young kids all over [is] it’s cool to be smart.

[END OF FILM AND VIDEO CLIPS.]

MR. MARTIN:  Of course, Dr. Roscoe Brown, Tuskegee Airman.  He shot down the first German plane during World War II.  W- — W- — I’m sorry.  German jet, German plane.  Jay, my producer’s going, “It’s a German jet.”

Shut ’im down!

All right.  Te- — [chuckles] –

MS. ARMOUR:  [Laughs.]

MR. MARTIN:  — te- — so, tell me, Vernice, when you – when you talk to folk, when you hear folks like him, and when you – when you me- — meet Tuskegee Airmen –

MS. ARMOUR:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — how does it feel to – to literally – you being history, shaking the hand of history?

MS. ARMOUR:  Well, number one, I’m standing on their shoulders.  It’s amazing just to be in their presence.  How does it make me feel?  Amazing.  And I know “to much is given much is required,” so it’s a big responsibility for me to continue the legacy.

MR. MARTIN:  The book is called Zero to Breakthrough, Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour” – the fly girl.

All right.  We appreciate it.  Thanks a lot.