You HAVE permission to engage – meet Belle of Steele #14 Vernice “Flygirl” Armour

What does it take to become America’s first African American female combat pilot?  For Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, it was going from Zero to Breakthrough!  She believes that harnessing the mindset of mission accomplishment no matter what the barriers, or perceived barriers, may be is the breakthrough mentality required to accomplish whatever you set you mind to.

Vernice

Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour

By refusing to settle, even in the smallest moments and demanding a breakthrough in every challenge, Vernice flew to new heights.  She remembers a conversation that became the catalyst for her own new flight plan and mission for life.  Humbly relating that she was “just doing her job” when she used pinpoint accuracy in her Cobra fighter helo to destroy a building housing an enemy mortar position in Iraq, she shared a story.  A few years after returning home from the war, she met a man who’d been in that same battle. He approached her and said, “Ma’am, you saved my life that day.”  He had been one of the soldiers under attack.  It was the deployment of Denise’s missle that took out enemy warriors who had been attacking his platoon.

Vernice completed two tours of duty in the Gulf, earning an Air Medal with a star of Valor, thirteen Strike Flight awards, a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, a Navy Presidential Unit Citation, and load of other awards, decorations, and public recognition. She’s been featured on Oprah, CNN, Tavis Smiley, NPR and numerous other TV and radio programs.  According to Oprah Winfrey, Vernice has “no shortage of accomplishments” describing her as “awesome girl…awesome!”  But despite this notoriety, her sole purpose is igniting the flame of passion within our youth to improve their productivity and commitment to achieve personal accomplishments within our society.

As a pioneering pilot, Vernice used her commanding role in technology and engineering to achieve what many said she could never do – become a combat pilot.  She ignored any naysayers along the way. She believes that women and men from all walks of life have the potential to achieve higher levels of success if they can only create the right flight plan.

Meeting the Commander-in-chief, President Obama

Meeting the Commander-in-chief, President Obama

As such she took her mission on the road, writing the book Zero to Breakthrough.  Her vision for an America that maintains greatness one accomplishment at a time, is for individuals to create their own flight plan designed to take them to new heights. Vernice describes a seven step, battle-tested method for accomplishing goals that matter. Today she works as a coach, national speaker, consultant for large entities such as Bank of America, NASA, the Secret Service, and Comcast. She is very clear in her message that she doesn’t believe in being average, striving for mediocrity, or just fitting in.

When interviewed, she related to me that she never focused on racism or sexism. According to Vernice, who found herself surrounded my a majority of males in her chosen professions, she stayed focused and did her job. Just like the boys. She never demanded special privileges or favors.  In fact, her journey and education started with her becoming a police officer. At one point, she even played women’s professional football. But once she achieved that, she was spurred on to further greatness.  In 1994, attended Middle Tennessee State University and participated in Army ROTC. She trained as a Marine officer in 1998 at Quantico Marine Base. Her first deployment in the Marines was with Marine Air Craft Wing MAG-39, in Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, learning to fly the Cobra.

Vernice uses some of her military jargon to motivate others. One of her slogans is “You have the permission to engage. You are cleared HOT!”  In other words, give yourself the permission to begin; to start steps toward achieving one’s goals and aspirations.  When flying in the middle of combat and needing to engage the enemy, pilots have to ask for permission to shoot their weapons. The magical phrase needed in order to protect Marines and Soldiers on the ground is ‘Cleared Hot.’  That means, go for it.  All clear.  One of her tenants is “acknowledge the obstacles, DON’T give them power.  There will be many times that barriers, such as racism or sexism are present. Financial barriers, societal barriers, or even doubts within ourselves may threaten to thwart plans.  But no matter what the roadblock, she encourages focus to come up with solutions. She emphasizes that how we react versus respond to barriers is the answer.

In her seminars, she has people think of themselves as an attack helicopter.  “Who needs a runway?” she questions. “Take off from where you are!” she motivates. “As soon as you add power (with a solution) and take off, you’re flying! Where you go, either foward or backward is up to you.”  Her five step process for success is:

  1.  Create your own flight plan, develop consciousness and awareness of what you are good at.
  2.  Pre-flight – check out all the details, and troubleshoot. Release fears holding you down.
  3.  Take off – give it some power and just do it.
  4.  Execute – stay on course and focus. In each situation practice self-discipline to achieve mastery.
  5.  Review, recharge, and re-attack!  If faced with obstacles find solutions and go again.Zero to Breakthrough

Vernice tells people, “If you do what average people do, you’ll have what average people have. And honestly, I haven’t met a single person who admits to wanting to be average.” She recognizes that people want to accomplish significant goals and become assets to their communities.  Making that flight plan and committing to go beyond is the real breakthrough that leads to success, significance and a meaningful legacy for our society.

Believing that there is no such thing as a dream out of reach, Vernice integrates the concepts of preparation, strategy, courage, legacy, and the importance of high spirits and enthusiasm to create an inner force.  This “FlyGirl” blends compassion, humor, drive, and a no-nonsense attitude to ignite the fire within, help lay the groundwork for success, and discover the self-discipline that enables anyone to blast through obstacles and challenges.

For these reasons and many more, AgeView Press is proud to have Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour as the fourteenth Belle of Steel.  What are you waiting for?  Go Zero to Breakthrough!

Lady Jessie Beck and the Navy Ghostriders – Belle of Steel #12

It isn’t any secret that the ultimate gift is giving without expecting anything in return.   As the first woman to own a casino in Nevada, for rootin’ tootin’ Jesse Beck, it was second nature.   Jessie was a colorful, spirited woman with an independent streak.  But to VA – 164, a group of Navy attack pilots who flew the A-4 Skyhawk, she was a woman with a heart of gold.

A patriot with the gift of giving.

A patriot with the gift of giving, Jessie Beck.

While on a holiday in Texas, “Pappy” Harold Smith, who owned Harold’s Club in Nevada during the late 1930s, offered Beck a job as a roulette dealer.  He noted her quick mathematical skills while she was working as a cashier, post two divorces.  Never afraid of a new adventure, Jessie packed her bags and relocated to Reno.  She quickly rose through the casino ranks, building a reputation for friendliness and good business sense.  This did not go unnoticed by Fred Beck, who owned and operated the keno, poker, pan and horse race booking concessions at Harold’s Club.  Not able to resist Jessie’s charm, Fred became Jessie’s third husband.  When Fred died in 1954, Jessie, now a widow, took over the operations.

She spent most of her time at the casino roaming the floors, and serving her customers, sometimes staying until three in the morning.  It was not unlike her to take over a 21 game and deal for hours, which is how she met a young future Navy pilot, Richard Perry who worked part time as a dealer.  His dream was to fly jets.  Jessie was moved by his story, and took him under her wing.  She befriended and encouraged him,often bringing him home for homemade meals.  Dick became Jessie’s pseudo-adopted son.  It was a proud moment for Jessie when Richard Perry was commissioned in 1957 and winged circa 1958.   Part of Naval aviation training took place out at Naval Air Station Fallon, just east of Reno.   Jessie would give out baskets of goodies, including playing cards and such from the casino to the young, love-starved pilots.

Lt. Commander Dick Perry, VA-164

LCDR Dick Perry, VA-164

But good times were not to last.  Dick was assigned to VA-164, the Ghostriders who flew the A-4 Skyhawk and was deployed to the Western Pacific to conduct bombing missions in Vietnam.  During his cruise time, Jessie continued sending the care packages.  In no time, the entire squadron came to know and love the generous gifts sent over from Lady Jessie, as they deemed her.   As homage to Beck, Perry had his A-4 painted with Lady Jessie on its side.

Unfortunately, while flying his Lady Jessie, tragedy stuck during Perry’s second WestPac cruise.  During the summer of 1967, Perry, now a Lieutenant Commander, served as VA-164’s division lead and led a strike into Haiphong off the USS Oriskany, CVA-34.  A surface to air missile struck the underbelly of Dick’s Skyhawk. Watching fuel stream out of his plane, Perry turned toward the Tonkin Gulf, speaking calmly to his wingman watching the disaster in horror.  As they reached the coastline, Dick became silent, his A-4 engulfed in flames.  As the plane rolled out of control, he ejected about a mile from the shoreline.  His chute deployed, but due to massive chest wounds received on impact, Perry remained lifeless in the water.  The helo attempting to rescue him came under heavy fire, and it became impossible to retrieve Dick’s body.LadyJessie A-4

As can be expected, upon hearing the news, Jessie was heartbroken.  But she forged on, spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars sending care packages to Vietnam servicemen, especially, VA-164.  The squadron honored the gracious lady from Reno even after LCDR Dick Perry’s death by displaying her name on each commanding officer’s aircraft.  This continued until the squadron was disestablished in 1975.

In 1967, the Nevada Gaming Commission revoked the gaming license of a casino named the Riverside over a dice-cheating scandal, shutting it down in 1968.  Shortly after, Beck lost the lease to the concessions at Harold’s in 1970 when the club was sold to the Hughes Corporation, who subsequently terminated most of the club’s staff.  Jessie was irate, but was not going to take this latest blow without a fight.  In 1971, Beck scraped up the money and bought the Riverside Casino for three million dollars.  To the delight of many, she rehired the majority of the former Harold’s Club employees.

Jessie's Riverside Casino

Jessie’s Riverside Casino

Now known as the Gambling Grandmother of Reno, Lady Jessie continued to give back, sharing her good fortunes to support military personnel all over the world.  She was bestowed with the Award of Merit, the highest honor the Defense Department can give a civilian, in 1968.  In 1969, the governor of Nevada named her a Distinguished Nevadan.  She was honored at a reunion of VA-164 and VA -163 pilots in the late 1970s.  A lifetime member of the St. Mary’s Hospital Guild, the Washoe County Medical Center League and the VFW Auxilliary, staunch Republican and pro-defense Lady Jessie continued to serve the military she loved.

In 1978, Harrah’s bought out the Riverside Casino which allowed Jessie to finally retire.  In 1987, LCDR Richard Perry’s  remains were returned, having been recovered previously by native fisherman when washed ashore from the Tonkin Gulf. Twenty years had passed since Lady Jessie had endured his loss.  A building had since been dedicated to Dick at the NAS Fallon. Fittingly, this loving warrior was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with our country’s heroes.  Family, Ghostriders, and other fellow officers, many by then of flag rank as Dick surely would have been, gathered from far and near, including his adopted mother, Lady Jessie.

Pilots of VA-164 and VA-163 with Lady Jessie

Pilots of VA-164 and VA-163 with Lady Jessie

On July 17th, 1987, Jessie Beck died at the age of eighty-three.  All that knew her described her as a not only a credit to the gaming industry and to the state of Nevada, but a great business woman.   However for VA-164, Jessie Beck was honored and remembered as a loving, caring, and generous person.  “We all held her in the highest regard.  More than anything else, Jessie was a lady.”The Navy’s ideals are honor, courage and committment.  Lady Jessie Beck lived out these ideals and became the darling to many of our military.  In honor of her service to our country, through her patronage of the  mighty Ghostriders of VA-64, AgeView Press is honored to posthumously name Lady Jessie Beck, Belle of Steel #12.

Strength through adversity at 90 shines through in June Clark, Belle of Steel # 3

June Clark, age 90 and still perking along!

What would you do if you were widowed with eight children in 1979?   June Spitler Clark knows . . . find a way to survive.   June Clark was born as a child of the Great Depression in Tecumseh, Michigan on January 31, 1922.  In June of 1940, she married the love of her life, Jim, who became a dashing young pilot of the United States Army Air Corp.   Head over heels and ready for adventure, they embarked on a life of military service.

June was originally raised a Quaker, but then became Episcopalian.  She bore two sons under that religion.    She became a brave young pilot’s wife and boarded a ship to Japan with her two young sons.  The time was just post Hiroshima.   Countless lives lost from the bombing.  What a site it was to see the gorgeous country of Japan leveled.   She was called a round eye by the Asians, as she was one of the few Anglo women in that part of the world.   Despite the culture shock, June immersed herself in the traditions of this strange land, desperately trying to understand and relate to the differences during countless hours alone, while her husband flew missions.

They returned for a brief time to the United States and were at Spokane, Washington.   Her third son was born there.   But Jim’s overseas assignment then brought them to Guam.  During her travels as an expat with her pilot husband to these faraway lands, June was introduced to the concepts of Catholicism.  So distant from home, June began to embrace the staunch and solid beliefs of Catholicism, finding comfort in the rigors and rules of the faith.   She became a convert in 1956.   Dutifully following the Catholic traditions of natural family planning, June subsequently produced another five children,  two boys and three girls.  Interestingly enough, all of June’s children are have a middle name that is of an Air Force base.   She chose their first name and her military husband their middle names.

The family were then off to Spain.    It was exciting to be in Europe, but the first of several tragedies loomed to burst the bubble of her idyllic, exotic lifestyle.   In 1962,  one of her young daughters was stricken with spinal meningitis whilst being cared for by a Spanish maid.   In a matter of months, not only was the three year old’s life threatened, but her brain permanently damaged.   June’s previously healthy, beautiful, blonde, baby girl would live mentally retarded for life.  It knocked June to the core.    Could she?   Would she?  Ever forgive herself  for leaving her child with a caretaker?

Devastated, she turned to her faith;  resolutely determined to carry on for her other children.     By that time, her oldest became a Coast Guard communications expert.    Upon their return to the states, her second son, was sent off to Vietnam.   The 1970s were rife with unrest.    June experienced the horrors of the Vietnam conflict first hand, when she received her brilliant second son home as a shell-shocked, Vietnam vet,  suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.    Not only that, but her ill daughter was in a state of massive decline.   At the same time, her husband’s military service became illusive and secret, with him becoming part of the CIA and cold war conflict.   Again, her husband’s assignments took him away to foreign lands.

June was left to care for her severely crippled daughter by herself.    Jim was away much of the time.    June’s children were now mostly teenagers;  all trying to find their way during the turbulent 1970s.    The burden of the care became too much, and her daughter had to be institutionalized.   One would think that life had brought her enough tribulation to endure.  But there were two more tragedies hidden in the wings.

In November, 1979, June’s young adult son was killed in a flying accident while joy riding in a small plane.   Her husband flew home from his distant and clandestine overseas assignment.   The family was photographed, symbolically as one, planting a tree in the young man’s name.   But there was more sadness to come.   Just one month later, June became widowed on December 14, 1979 when Colonel Jim Clark was fatally wounded in a terrorist attack while on duty as a government contract engineer in Istanbul, Turkey.   It was almost more than she could bear.    Abject and lost, it nearly did her in.   Christmas presents remained untouched.    A dark depression loomed.

She relied on the strength and fortitude of her third son, who was devoted to his faith within the Catholic church.   John and the rest of her children became her rock.   Her only source of survival.  She cottoned onto John’s mature strength of character as he navigated the complications of a CIA agent being murdered overseas.    Not willing to succumb to life’s devasting blows, June turned to inward to her talents.   At the encouragement of John, June enrolled in university and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Art Education.   By rekindling her cognition, she overcame her desperate grief.

Unfortunately, there was one more funeral in which she had to attend in 1983.  The demise of her brain-stricken daughter.     Bittersweet relief was realized.   June wrote a poem, entitled Tiny Tita about how her daughter, who once loved to dance, now finally could in heaven.   Her child’s pain was over.Yet again, June turned to her faith.    The power of prayer got her through.

Donw the lane book

Published at age 80!

By this time, her children were grown adults, navigating their own trials and tribulations.   June continued with her art and creativity.  In the early years of the millenium, around 2000, June wrote and published a book.  Down the Lane is about her childhood, describing the Great Lakes legend of the Ogo Pogo.   That book is still in publication today.  June’s large family has grown.  She is now is the grandmother of  10, great grandmother to 11, and has one great-great grandchild on the way.  Just this month, at age 90, June was the featured author at Benbrook Library, doing a special reading to children on her book.   She still attends Catholic mass each week at St. Peter’s in Fort Worth with one of her children in attendance.

For her strength and fortitude; sheer determination and courage. . . AgeView Press names June Elizabeth Clark as Belle of Steel number three.    To read about Belles of Steel number one and two, click the link Belles of Steel in the category margin to the left.

Belle of Steel #2 Fat to Fantabulous Carla Ferrer

Carla Ferrer before and after her weight loss

Wow, what a difference some positive choices can make!

Belle of Steel #2 is none other than Carla Ferrer.  Carla is an advocate for people who need a little help and direction to  genuinely  improving their life and health.   At one point, she tipped the scales weighing at a shockingly obese 330 pounds.  That was over eighteen years ago.  According to Carla?   “The reason I am successful is that I know what it’s like to feel unworthy, trapped, lonely, and miserable.  Needless to say, I know what it is to be an outcast!  I also know what it’s like to transform oneself from the inside out; positively affecting everything from one’s self worth and confidence, to career, social life, and relationships.”

While she was a young nursing student, she watched her mother die from obesity related complications.  At the time, her  own health and overall wellness was deteriorating  via obesity related hypertension and borderline diabetics.   Her mother’s physician told her, “shape up or you’re next.”  Carla’s obesity and lack of self-worth wasn’t just gluttony induced;  largely the low self-esteem came as a result of being sexually abused at a young age.    It became time for her to wake up and get with it.   And boy howdy, did she ever.

The change process began with a step.  Walking one step after the other was her springboard.  It  became a motivating force to get her eating a healthier diet with the right portions.  It was a lifestyle change that helped her drop well over one hundred thirty five pounds!   Driven and determined, she completed this task in just nine months;  and has kept it off for over 18 years.  She attributes this success to  daily soulful introspection  for powerful and positive living, good nutrition, and an active lifestyle.  She is active, but abhors the gym.  Instead she does calorie burning things she likes.

I first met Carla as a Weight Watcher coach.  The best I had ever heard.   Why?  Because she was personal, no-nonsense, real and motivating.   She answered your emails and tweets.    She has evolved into the CEO/President of Ferrer & Company, Inc., a Wellness Organization.  In addition, she is an Author, Keynote Speaker; Certified Professional Life Coach, Certified Nutritionist, Weight Loss Expert, Certified Childhood Obesity Specialist, International Ambassador Against Obesity, Certified Personal Trainer;  Corporate Wellness Program(s) Developer, Philanthropist, and Model.     Just a little busy!

Carla Ferrer's book, Fat to Fan-Tabulous

Order your copy!

Carla considers herself a very blessed woman.  She is married to her soulmate.   Her best friend for over 8 years.   They have two adorable tea-cup Chihuahuas, Ms. Munchkin & Bella Mae.   Her life is rich, she believes by cultivating and nurturing relationships with the best of family and friends.  Her hobbies including reading, writing, knitting, crotcheting, scrapbooking, calligrahphy, cooking/baking, yoga, pilates, dancing, wine tasting, and travel!  Although I am hardpressed to know when she has time!

Since achieving her personal goal many years ago, her passion evolved into helping other people who struggle with low self esteem, lack of self-worth, and who feel trapped in unhealthy relationships.  Carla finds that they often settle for less than deserved; are stuck in miserable jobs for fear of not being able to secure something better; and are horribly overweight.  Her clients merely existing day to day, rather than living life fully by design.  This transformation is necessary  to realize one’s true value and potential.  She advocates that” people who are shown better; will do better, and therefore have better!”    That is why Carla Ferrer Russo is our second motivational Belle of Steel.

Do you know some Belles of Steel?

Amelia Earhart flying solo

A dynamic aviatrix is born!

A new weekly feature of this blog will be to highlight the accomplishments of some inspiring women.  Those women who are true pioneers, movers and shakers, and thus Belles of Steel.   Throughout the course of history we have been inspired by these strong, dynamic, oft times ballsy women.   Many dared to test the unthinkable.   Some strived to prove that women could accomplish what men could.   Their actions brought about historical change.    Sometimes the choices they made had devastating consequences personally,  but furthered their cause.  Right now in your head, I’ll bet you can think of at least one.   

They were and are pillars for us all.   We love reading about them and writing about them.  Their antics provide fodder for books, magazines, and movies.  Many are famous and deservedly so.   Florence NightingaleMarie CurieSusan B. AnthonyEmelia EarhartAnnie Oakley,  and Rosa Parks to name a few.   You recognize those names, but what about Belles of Steel that you may not have heard about?   There are plenty of stories that are jaw dropping and phenomenal right in our own backyards.   These women quietly go about changing our world.   Some have reached notariety, but many have not.  

Thus, I am proud to introduce Belles of Steel.   Each week, the accomplishments of one woman who has made a difference will be featured.   Many of these women influenced why Flying Solo , my debut novel was written.   Flying Solo was based on a true story about a woman who most certainly was a Belle of Steel.   Her choice to become an aviator in the 1960s was unconventional within her social stratophere.    Not to mention the actions to which she was willing to resort in order to regain her children.  One of which was stealing a plane!    

Be looking forward to the first installment this week.    If you were influenced by a Belle of Steel, please shoot me an email or tweet.   It might be considered for a segment.     Happy reading this week!