When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and parts of southeast Texas, members of the U.S. Coast braved treacherous weather to rescue stranded individuals. Lieutenant Ronaqua Russell flew an HC-144 Ocean Sentry as a part of these efforts helping saving 11,022 people.
Now, the fixed wing aviator is being recognized for her service — and making history in the process.On Feb. 21, Lt. Russell was awarded the Air Medal, one of the military’s top aviation awards, by the U.S. Coast Guard. According to a representative at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic site, Lt. Russel will be the first African American female pilot to be bestowed the honor.
“She flew through severe weather hours after Hurricane Harvey made landfall to deliver personnel and equipment vital to Coast Guard rescue efforts in Houston,” wrote the U.S. Coast Guard Mechanics on their Facebook page. “This prestigious award is rarely earned by fixed-wing aviators in the Coast Guard and Lt. Russell has inked her way into the archives!”
The monumental moment for black servicewomen was fittingly celebrated at the historic Moton Airfield in Tuskegee, Ala. The site is where the first African American military flying squadron (otherwise known known as the “Tuskegee Airmen”) began during World War II. It is also now the place where the first Coast Guard African American female was awarded the Air Medal.
Joining Lt. Russel for this monumental moment were her four fellow Coast Guard black female aviators — Lieutenant Commander Jeanine Menze, Lt. Cmdr. LaShanda Renee Holmes, Lt. Angel Hughes and Lt. Chanel Lee. Nicknamed the “Fab Five,” together these trailblazing women make up the only black female pilots in U.S. Coast Guard history.
“We’re all beaming with happiness and pride with Ronaqua’s accomplishment,” Lt. Angel Hughes told Yahoo Lifestyle.
Many in attendance at the award ceremony expressed gratitude for getting to witness such a special occasion. “It was an honor to be among greatness,” wrote one Facebook user who posted a photo with the group. “To watch these women share their experiences at flight school and in the field, share dreams for the future of our military, and know they have the power to go out there and change the world!”
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