Coast Guard Lt. Ronaqua Russell flies an Air Station Corpus Christi HC-144 in support of Hurricane Maria response efforts in October 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard/Lt.Cmdr. Ryan P Kelley)

Editor's Note: This article by Hope Hodge Seck originally appeared onMilitary.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

When Hurricane Harvey slammed into southeast Texas with Category 4 intensity in late August 2017, causing devastating flooding and damage, many in the Houston metropolitan area struggled to find a way out of town. But with airports closed and flights grounded, Coast Guard Lt. Ronaqua Russell and her counterparts out of Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi were on the way in.

Russell, 28, was one of eight Coast Guard pilots to be awarded the prestigious Coast Guard Air Medal for operations in the wake of the deadly hurricane. And the award, presented Feb. 21 in Tuskegee, Alabama, made history: she is the first African-American woman in the service to ever receive the Air Medal. But despite what she calls the "surreal experience" of receiving the award, her focus is still on the mission ahead and her love of the job.

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