"Your future is YOUR responsibility." --Black Hawk Pilot & Chief Warrant Officer Elizabeth McCormick, U.S. Army (ret.)

by Jessica Clackum

 CWO Elizabeth McCormick in the Black Hawk. Fierce and determined! (Photo: Elizabeth McCormick)

CWO Elizabeth McCormick in the Black Hawk. Fierce and determined! (Photo: Elizabeth McCormick)

Elizabeth McCormick never had dreams of flying. The extremely shy, oldest of three children whose parents divorced when she was ten, had never even entertained thoughts of joining the military much less flying in it. After her parents split up, she spent summers in Texas with her father and the rest of the time with her mother in rural Michigan. The impact of the divorce was difficult for her, placing heavy responsibilities on her shoulders and instilling in her a negative outlook on life which would take years to change.  After high school, McCormick entered Siena Heights University in Michigan on a volleyball scholarship. Playing sports helped her climb out of her shell and gain confidence she so desperately needed.

A few years later, McCormick, a military spouse who had earned an Associate’s Degree in Engineering and a Bachelor's Degree in Art with a minor in Mathematics, found herself unemployed and living at Fort Polk, a U.S. Army installation in west-central Louisiana. Despite her education, the only job she'd been able to secure had been in a pizza parlor. Miserable and wondering how she'd gotten to that point in her life, she looked over at her husband and thought, "If he can be in the Army, why can't I?" and so the next day she began researching opportunities in the Army. One thing McCormick knew was that if she was going to join the Army, she wanted the "coolest job" she could find. After much research and talking to people, she decided she wanted to be a helicopter pilot. She often remarks that when she made that decision, it was the first time in a long time that something felt right. She thought, "This is it, this is what I'm supposed to do" and she never looked back.

When McCormick entered the Army recruiting office, she found that there was no support for women in non-traditional military roles. When the Army recruiter eagerly informed her of opportunities as a cook, she politely declined and told him of her decision to become a pilot. The recruiter attempted to dissuade her more than once, citing that being a pilot required perfect eyesight, perfect physical conditioning, a college degree and leadership skills...all of which she possessed but had a hard time convincing him of that. Every time the recruiter cited an obstacle and told her she couldn't, she kept asking the question, "Why Not?" Finally, after the recruiter, in a last-ditch effort to dissuade her, informed her that he did not know how to "do the paperwork" for a woman who wanted to become a pilot, McCormick took matters into her own hands and did the paperwork herself. At that moment, the girl who had once been so shy she couldn't even call her own hairdresser, took charge of her life and embarked upon one of the most challenging and difficult jobs in the military. Despite the obstacles, Elizabeth McCormick knew that her future lay in her hands and that if believed in herself, she could do it--she would do it. 

 Belief in herself, hard work and determination! (Photo: Elizabeth McCormick)

Belief in herself, hard work and determination! (Photo: Elizabeth McCormick)

McCormick admits that when she decided on becoming an Army pilot, she had no idea how difficult it had been for women to break into the aviation field. She says, "I didn't know they only let women in Army aviation ten years before and that they were only letting them into aviation one at a time to see how it worked out."

As she progressed through both Warrant Officer and flight training, McCormick was hit with harsh mental and physical challenges. While in flight school, it took everything she had to overcome the negative attitude toward her presence. While unspoken, the sentiment was clear--she was not wanted there. Despite all the challenges, McCormick never gave up and her determination and hard work earned her the rank of Warrant Officer and the honor of being one of the first 100 women to fly the Black Hawk in the United States Army. 

During her military career, CWO2 Elizabeth McCormick flew assault and rappelling training missions, Command and Control battlefield management operations, military intelligence missions and VIPs such as Generals, Governors, Cabinet Members and Members of Congress. As the S-4 Logistics Officer in Charge at the Battalion level during the UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, McCormick received the Meritorious Service Medal. In addition, she is a two-time recipient of both the Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medals and received the National Defense Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon and coveted Army Aviator Badge. Disabled in the line of duty, CWO2 McCormick medically retired and was honored with the Congressional Veteran Commendation for commitment to duty and community.

Determined to inspire and motivate others to reach their potential, McCormick became a motivational speaker. She travels the world motivating, inspiring and encouraging people to live their dreams and be their very best. A number one bestselling author of a number of books including the “Soar 2 Success” series of business success tip books, McCormick is also an authority on Leadership and Veterans issues with the media and has been featured on all the major networks and the Wall Street Journal. She is also a founding member of the John Maxwell team of speakers, coaches and trainers and is an award-winning sales consultant.  

Elizabeth McCormick is grateful for her experience as an Army Black Hawk pilot and the many opportunities it opened up to her. Her decision to join the Army so many years ago changed her life, in more ways than she could've ever imagined. She is extremely thankful for all the women who came before her, who fought hard for the opportunities she's had and she is adamant that the story of the WASP and all women aviators of our past must be told. 

"RESPECT to those who came before us! That made our path a little smoother and even possible. When I joined the military, LESS than 1% of the pilots were women, now it's more than 10%--every woman (and WASP) who came before us paved that path FOR US, and every woman who flies now makes this career more attainable for our daughters and granddaughters. Let's not forget that."

 Elizabeth McCormick decided what she wanted to do and she did it! (Photo: Elizabeth McCormick)

Elizabeth McCormick decided what she wanted to do and she did it! (Photo: Elizabeth McCormick)


YOU.  In the PILOT Seat

by Elizabeth McCormick

 Black Hawk pilot-turned-motivational speaker Elizabeth McCormick wows audiences around the world with her motivational speeches based on her military and life experiences. (Photo: San Diego Women's Week http://sdwomensweek.com)

Black Hawk pilot-turned-motivational speaker Elizabeth McCormick wows audiences around the world with her motivational speeches based on her military and life experiences. (Photo: San Diego Women's Week http://sdwomensweek.com)

Flying a Black Hawk helicopter is…BADASS.

Let’s put you in the PILOT seat:  Imagine you are in the front car of a roller coaster, you can see everything in front of you.  No one else’s arms or back of the heads are in your view. It’s all yours to see first.  Visualize the track in front of you… extending out further and further on your ride.   Wait, erase that track.  There isn’t one.  YOU get to decide where you go.  How high, how low, how fast or how… slow.  To the right or to the left, which way you should go.   It’s all up to you.  

You are in the Pilot’s seat of your life.  

Becoming one of the first 100 or so women to fly the Black Hawk in the US Army did not come without challenges.  Oh?  You thought it was easy- right?  

There was the physical challenge; I had to physically perform at the same level as the men in Warrant Officer Candidate School- at that time (1994) the school that had to be completed to get to Flight School, and where women had to meet the same physical standards as the men.  Running in boots in gear, next to the men at THEIR pace, not mine, pushed my physical limits further than I had ever gone.  One by one, the 7 women who started in our class was whittled down to 2.  And just when I thought, this is it, I can’t do anymore.  I did more.  I had more than I thought possible.  Most of the time, it’s our thinking that limits us- not our bodies, not our environment, not our circle of influence (well, unless we let their limiting beliefs in). 

The mental game, was the toughest.   The name-calling, negativity on a daily basis can beat down the most positive person.  And I didn’t grow up super positive, the product of divorced parents with heavy responsibility placed on my shoulders.  It was a daily battle to be positive and combat the negativity that was all around me.   In flight school, it was worse.  Although no one said the words out loud, it was clear from my treatment as the only girl in my flight school class that they did not want me there. To persevere in this vision I had on the side of road of a dirty dusty road as a military wife to become a helicopter pilot, I had to create and adopt strategies to overcome this negativity.  

I’m about to share these strategies with you, first though, I want you to know.   

Your future is YOUR responsibility. 

Think about that for a minute.  No one is going to care as much as you (maybe, if you’re lucky, your parents will). If you work in a job, your boss isn’t going to care about your career progression as much as you.  If you own a company, your customers and your employees aren’t going to care as much as you.   Look at yourself in a mirror, a window, a phone and say to yourself:   

“It’s all on me.” 

Because it is.   It’s all up to you.   When it comes to your four most valuable resources and how you decide to allocate those—it’s up to you.  Oh, you want to know what your four most valuable resources are?  

1.      Your Thinking- if you could harness your thinking to work for you.  To even put your subconscious to work while you’re sleeping.  How much more effective would you be?

2.      Your Health-  without your health, what do you have?  It’s not a trick question.  This is the only body you get, are you taking care of it to the best of your ability?

 3.      Your Money- you choose how you spend your money and even how you make your money and how much money you can make.  

4.      Your Time-  you choose how you spend your time. 

These 4 resources, aren’t individual.  They work synergistically together.  The time and money you invest in your thinking shows up in how you spend your time, how much money you make, and in your physical well-being.  And when you’re feeling at your optimal health physically, it shows up in the clarity of your thinking, your energy effecting your time, which can drive your effectiveness at work or in your business and make you more money. Pick any one and you can clearly see how it affects the other 3.   

When I was in flight school as the only girl in the class, the flight instructor tried to fail me because of my gender.  It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, it was a fact.  He would yell at me every day:  “You’re stupid.  You don’t deserve to be here.  You are wasting my time.”  And the worst was “A monkey can fly better than you!”   Every day, week after week.   It would have been easier to have quit than to persevere. It was physically demanding, and mentally grueling, and emotionally it took a toll on my self-esteem… until I started developing and utilizing these confidence boosting strategies over 20 years ago (see these at www.soar2success.com).  And although my life is different now that I am a disabled veteran and can no longer fly due to my injury, I still use these today to keep my confidence high and perform optimally. "

Read more about Elizabeth at pilotspeaker.com!