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First Coast Guard African American Woman to Receive the Air Medal

Making History in the Sky

By Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Kelley as published in the Coast Guard News

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Aviation history was made last month when Lt. Ronaqua Russell, a native of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, became the first African-American female aviator in the Coast Guard to receive the Air Medal. The first of two ceremonies to honor her achievement took place at Tuskegee’s Moton Field Thursday, 21 February. This is the same location where, 77 years ago, the first African-American aviators in the U.S. Armed Services broke down racial barriers to earn their wings, and later go on to fly several heroic and critical combat missions in World War II. One of these Tuskegee Airmen was 1st Lt. Henry E. Rohlsen, Russell’s Great Uncle and namesake for the international airport in St. Croix.

The Air Medal is awarded to an individual who distinguishes themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight. Russell received this honor in recognition for her actions in response to Hurricane Harvey, one of the most destructive storms in U.S. history.

The “Fab 5” standing on historic Tuskegee’s Moton Field after attending Lt. Ronaqua Rusell’s Air Medal Ceremony, Feb. 21, 2019. Pictured from left to right are Coast Guard HC-130 fixed wing pilot Lt. Cmdr. Jeanine Menze, MH-65 helicopter pilot Lt. Cmdr. LaShanda Holmes, HC-144 fixed wing pilot Lt. Angel Hughes, MH-60 helicopter pilot Lt. Chanel Lee, HC-144 fixed wing pilot Lt. Ronaqua Russell.

Historical Narratives