Growing up in Puerto Rico, Spc. Raul Rivera remembers watching his parents work day-in and day-out as corrections and law enforcement officers. Their selfless service left a mark on him.
Now an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry “Black Lions,” 3rd Infantry Division, Rivera is well on his way into making a career out of the military. Although his path here was anything but certain, Rivera could always count on his loved ones to support him on his journey.
Even as a young boy, Rivera knew that he wanted to serve those around him, just like his parents. He spent countless hours playing soldier with his brother.
However, big changes were on the horizon for Rivera.
At age 11, Rivera moved with his father from Puerto Rico to Jonestown, Pennsylvania, to start a new life. His dad began work as a janitor there.
Things in Pennsylvania were a little different than on the island. He remembers one thing that stood out in particular.
“The first thing that went through my head was that I had never seen an attic before,” said Rivera.
Rivera said that they didn't have attics where he was from in Puerto Rico.
“Whenever I got to the United States, I saw all these attics and pointed houses,” Rivera continued. He said he felt like he was living in a fantasy novel.
His father worked hard, and the family eventually bought a home in Jonestown. Although he lived there, he said he still felt a little like an outsider at times.
During high school, Rivera remembers admiring the Soldiers that he saw in videos returning from the war. These videos left an impression on him, and they helped him decide that he did not want to work a normal job knowing other Americans were risking their lives.
"Even though Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S., I felt that serving would help connect with this country," said Rivera.
Rivera didn’t want to serve in just any job, though. He wanted to be an Army infantryman.
Rivera’s father, worried for his son’s safety, hoped his son would reconsider his choice.
“He knew I lived for adrenaline,” said Rivera.
However, before Rivera could start taking steps forward to enlist, he said that his father insisted that he look at all the other branches of the military and at other jobs in the Army.
“I’m afraid of heights,” Rivera joked. “I’m not going on a ship, and I can’t swim.”
Rivera said this narrowed down his choice to the Army.
Although the other branches were off the table, Rivera decided to make his father happy and choose a different job than infantry. Rivera went to a Military Entrance Processing Station to become a combat engineer.
“I have an aptitude to be a combat engineer,” said Rivera. “And then I go to MEPS and I'm colorblind! So I'm like, okay, there's no other option. Now what do I do?”
“I looked at the computer,” he said. “There's only one job. I got my dream. I have to take it.”
Rivera enlisted as an infantryman June 18, 2018.
The military was a shock for Rivera, who said he felt like a little kid when he showed up to basic training.
Now, two years later, Rivera said he is more mature and aims to become a great leader for Soldiers to look up to. He plans to pin sergeant upon completing the Basic Leader Course after he returns from exercise Orient Shield 21-2 in Japan.
Rivera and the other Black Lions are currently in Japan to support exercise Orient Shield, which begins later this month. Orient Shield is the largest U.S. Army and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force bilateral field training exercise being executed in various locations throughout Japan to enhance interoperability and test and refine multi-domain and cross-domain operations.
For Rivera, becoming a sergeant means he will have the chance to influence Soldiers and make positive changes in their lives both on and off the clock.
“You have to be able to mentor in and out of uniform,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Andrew Tymes, a Detroit, Michigan, native and section sergeant with the Black Lions, said Rivera takes initiative in the unit by teaching classes to younger Soldiers. Tymes said Rivera is teaching them to take over his place as a machine gunner once he is promoted.
But looking out for younger Soldiers isn’t the only thing Rivera does for his unit.
“When morale is down, he can always turn it around,” said Tymes. “He gets a smile out of everybody.”
Though Rivera said his father was worried for his safety in the beginning, he knows that his father is very proud of him and where he is now.
“The first thing that my dad says when he introduces me to his work friends is that I’m his Soldier son,” said Rivera.
His mother, who moved to Georgia after Hurricane Maria with her husband, became a cop. Rivera said when he visited her at work right before leaving for Orient Shield, his mom pulled him close to show him off to her coworkers. He said that the coworkers already recognized him from all the photos she had shown them.
As Rivera looks to the future, he hopes to become Ranger qualified. Whether he gets the Ranger tab or not, he said the biggest things he hopes to accomplish is to leave a lasting impression on those he serves alongside.