Before getting approval to shoot missiles as America’s first Black female combat pilot, Vernice Armour, aka “FlyGirl,” would wait to hear the words: “You have permission to engage, cleared hot.”
It’s a message the former U.S. Marine Corps captain and author of “Zero to Breakthrough: The 7-Step, Battle-Tested Method for Accomplishing Goals That Matter” encouraged attendees at NCSL’s 2021 Legislative Summit to embrace during a session recognizing veterans Thursday in Tampa, Fla.
Between a global pandemic, economic hardships facing many families, the George Floyd killing and other weighty issues, Armour said there’s simply a lot going on in the world.
Will there be challenges and obstacles? Absolutely. The key is to acknowledge the obstacles—don’t give them power. —Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour
“Honestly, it reminds me of combat,” she said. “The enemy was constantly shifting, the situation was constantly shifting, the plan was constantly shifting. We had a saying: No plan survives first contact. As soon as we strapped into the aircraft and we took off, the plan had already changed.”
And although having the framework of a plan in place is key, actually carrying out those plans and taking action takes real guts, Armour said.
“The conversation that I really want to have today,” she said, “is about that magical phrase I got out in the desert: ‘You have permission to engage.’ Same exact words, very different emphasis. You have permission to engage. If, how and when you engage is absolutely a choice, because there are no ground controllers in life. You are the ground controller. If you don’t give yourself permission to engage, who will?”
Armour, who also served as a police officer in Nashville, Tenn., and Tempe, Ariz., said it’s important to remember how the decisions we make as leaders impact the lives of our friends, family, neighbors and communities.
“We are front-line warriors on a different battlefield—I call it the battlefield of life,” she said, citing her mantra of “One mission. One goal. One team.” “Will there be challenges and obstacles? Absolutely. The key is to acknowledge the obstacles—don’t give them power.”
After all, life is all about transition. “Going from before 9/11 to after 9/11, going from before COVID to after COVID, going from before whatever the next thing is—because there will always be a next thing—our community is in the balance,” she said. “And when we run into a challenge or obstacle—and folks, let’s be real, sometimes we are the obstacle—how do we move the obstacle out of the way and focus on what the goal really is?”
In the end, Armour said, we are all in this together. “Remember it takes guts to do it, but you’ve got to take action. And most of all remember: You have permission to engage.”
Lesley Kennedy is a director in NCSL’s Communications Division.