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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A Miami-based pilot made history thanks to her heroic efforts following two devastating hurricanes and received the Air Medal from the US Coast Guard for her efforts.

And while she was helping others, her own family’s home was hit by yet another catastrophic storm.

Lt. Ronaqua Russell is based out of Coast Guard Air Station Miami. But on August 25th, 2017, she was based out of Corpus Christi when Hurricane Harvey hit the middle Texas coast as a Category 4 storm.

Her aircraft was the very first in the sky following the storm’s destructive track.

“The weather was a big impact for everybody. The visibility was bad. The rain, very strong rain,” Lt. Russell said.

She and her team delivered critical supplies and personnel in support of the ongoing rescue and recovery efforts.

While she was helping Harvey victims, another storm, Irma, hit her family’s home in St. Thomas.

“Cell towers were down and no one was hearing from that part of the island where my family lives. It was definitely touch and go because I didn’t know how they were doing,” she explained.

Once she knew her family was safe, she was back in the air again, this time running relief to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

“You could feel the sense of relief to be evacuated out. That was definitely powerful,” she said.

For her efforts, particularly in the aftermath of Harvey, Lt. Russell received the prestigious “Air Medal” becoming the first African-American female aviator to win the award.

“I’m very fortunate to receive this award,” she said. “I guess the impact is just other people coming up behind me can look and see a little girl from the Virgin Islands can come and do something like this.”

She says she was simply doing her job, but it helps that she loves that job so much.

“If you pursue your passion and give it your all, the sky’s the limit.”

Lt. Russell received the Air Medal at a special ceremony at Tuskegee’s Moton Field, 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.

Lauren Pastrana

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