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Coast Guard Air Station Miami Aviator Honored with Key to the U.S. Virgin Islands

She was the first African American female Coast Guard aviator to win the Air Medal, while flying missions during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Lt. Ronaqua Russell, a Coast Guard HC-144 pilot with Air Station Miami, was honored at the U.S. Virgin Islands Legislature in Saint Thomas Thursday, where she was presented with the Key to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Lt. Ronaqua Russell, a native of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, was recognized for her achievements as a pilot and becoming the first African American female Coast Guard aviator to win the Air Medal, while flying missions during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. She was also recognized for her assistance to the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands while flying Coast Guard missions post Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“For over 232 years the Coast Guard has been a great service because of young people like you who got in harm’s way to save others,” said Adm. Charles W. Ray, who retired as the vice commandant of the Coast Guard in 2021, in part of a video message addressed to Lt. Russell during the ceremony. “We are so proud of you, the service is lucky to have you and the people of the Virgin Islands are proud of you as well. Congratulations and God Bless.”

Lt. Russel described flying during hurricanes. “I am truly humbled,” said Lt. Russell. “I’ve spent most of my time just trying to lay low. If you know me, you know I hate getting attention. It was an interesting summer of 2017, and flying through Hurricane Harvey in possibly the worst weather I’ve ever seen. And then turning right back around to fly for Hurricane Maria because everybody knew that was close to home.”

Lt. Russell attended the University of the Virgin Islands, where she studied Applied Mathematics, before attending the United States Coast Guard Academy. She graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Operations Research. In 2014, she successfully finished Naval Flight School, and has been a Coast Guard fixed-wing pilot for eight years.

Lt. Russell’s career is noted by achievement. She is the fifth African American female pilot in Coast Guard history. She is currently selected for promotion to Lieutenant Commander.

Read more at USCG

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