By Maj. Carson Petry (1st CAV)May 22, 2018
Eleven years ago, Tawny and Juan Rivera were living the American Dream. They built a family and business in a quaint town in Mississippi. The couple, separated by 20 years, formed an unlikely yet effective partnership, transforming their entrepreneurial dream into a successful business.
"I knew we could make it work," said Juan Rivera. "I wanted to start a business, so we looked for a location, and I started hunting for clients."
A former Marine with a construction background, Juan Rivera used his talents to start RDG, Inc., a burgeoning construction company with his wife, Tawny. Their first customer was a United Methodist church, severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Life was good. Juan was the builder. Tawny was the manager. Then unexpectedly, the destructive wave of the housing-market crash swept through the small town of Pascagoula, MS., closing the doors of RDG, Inc. in 2010, and shattering their hopes and dreams.
Juan looked for work. He went to school to get certifications to make him more marketable. He even tried to start over, but the housing-market crash devastated any opportunities to rebuild their business. A lifetime of construction expertise was reduced to unwanted skills. Unable to find a job, the Rivera's decided on another route. It was Tawny's turn.
"He did it for our family for so long, and it was my turn to step up to the plate," said Rivera. "It's one of those things where when you're married and have a family, if the other person can no longer be the provider, you have to do it."
Service was not new to Tawny. Her father-in-law served. Her grandfather served. Service was in her blood. But Pascagoula didn't have a recruiting office. She traveled to the next town to meet with a recruiter. At 25, she took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to determine her aptitude for service. The test revealed her first obstacle; after an extensive lapse from school, math somehow escaped her consciousness. She didn't quit. Tawny hired a math tutor.
"I did six math tutoring sessions and even bought the ASVAB for Dummies book," said Rivera. "I studied on my own because I was on a tight timeline and I needed to do it now."
She retook the test and exceeded her expectations. Her recruiter was thrilled as well.
After meeting the requirements to enlist, she signed her contract, took the oath of enlistment, packed her belongings, and traveled to basic training at Ft. Sill, Ok. Day one, her drill sergeant pulled her aside and notified her that her husband had a stroke. Pfc. Rivera returned home to her husband in the hospital for a few days, but a new determination began to grow inside her.
"It was stressful initially because I still worried about my husband and one-year-old son," said Rivera. "But I knew they would be okay with my mom's support and assistance while I was away."
She returned to basic training and graduated in 2010 as a 68A, biomedical equipment specialist. Army life suited Pfc. Rivera. With an Afghanistan deployment under her belt, and steady professional progress, eventually achieving the rank of Sergeant, her confidence increased. Life was good again, and so came another test. Juan had cancer.
"After we found out he had cancer, it was a year-long process regarding his treatment," said Rivera.
But cancer would not stop the Rivera's. A conversation about Sgt. Rivera's future in the military sparked a new journey for the Rivera's.
"How about becoming an officer," said Juan.
The idea appealed to Sgt. Rivera, but she loved her job.
"The regiment of it, the predictability I have, that is something I liked," said Rivera. "I loved my job, and I couldn't see myself doing anything else."
She needed six hours to complete her degree to apply to the Officer Candidate School (OCS), the route an enlisted Soldier takes to becoming an officer. Some people talk, while others act. She registered for classes and earned her degree.
With her liberal arts degree, she applied to OCS. The packet was ready for review by a board of officers. It would be several months before she would hear anything. Meanwhile, her medical unit deployed to Liberia to assist with the Ebola crisis. After redeploying, her friend informed her of her selection to OCS.
"It's been a journey," said Rivera. "I look at it every day as something that I can tell my Soldiers about regarding the struggles that I've had when they feel like they can't do it anymore. If they say it's too difficult, I say, yes, you can."
1st Lt. Rivera's story of adversity and persistence is one she credits to her resiliency.
"You force your way through it and then when you look back on it you understand you have more strength and more grit than you give yourself credit for," said Rivera. "I use those as a reminder when the days get hard."
Juan has a new role also. Besides 1st Lt. Rivera's support system and motivator, he is the company's Family Readiness Leader (FRG), the vital link between a unit's commander and the spouses and family members of their Soldiers.
"Being an FRG leader is a job that I enjoy very much," said Juan Rivera. "I am the go between from the military side of the house to the civilian side, the families. It's my way of paying it forward to help families the best I can and it can be very rewarding at times."
Juan is in his second remission and 1st Lt. Rivera excels at military service. Life is good again.