JORDAN - Being deployed is often full of firsts. For many, it is their first time in a new country, experiencing a different culture, and being away from family for an extended time. But the first deployment for two 111th Theater Engineer Brigade Soldiers led to something different – the first time seeing a family member in over 12 years.
Capt. Brittany Watson, a medical operations officer in the 111th Engineer Brigade, and Sgt. Andres Rivera, a carpentry and masonry specialist in the 766th Engineer Company of the 111th, recently reunited during a deployment to the Middle East.
Their reunion was not an expected one, at least not for Rivera. Watson, who is stationed in Kuwait, received orders to travel to Jordan for an anthrax vaccination mission – it just so happened it was to the base where Rivera was stationed. Watson took this as the perfect opportunity to surprise Rivera and show up at his job site.
"When I first saw my nephew, we embraced in a long hug, which is something that you don't often get on a deployment," said Watson. "Our conversation flowed just like we had seen each other every day of our lives. It was perfect!"
For Rivera, the surprise visit by his aunt was something he never expected to happen.
"I didn't know how to act when I saw her. I had so many mixed feelings," Rivera said. "It all just came natural, like we never spent any time apart. It made me feel very happy."
Rivera, from Hialeah, Florida, knew he wanted to be a part of something larger than himself that could provide daily motivation. For him, the Army was the answer.
He was so eager to join, he enlisted when he was 17 years old and graduated Basic Combat Training the summer between his junior and senior year of high school.
"I was impatient and wanted to start working on something that was going to better me outside of just school, and so I joined the Army to get a foot up against my peers," said Rivera. "The Army provided me with guidance and a motivation that I did not fully grasp yet. Once I joined, I realized my potentials.
"The Army is why I am successful today," Rivera said. "There are a lot of different things I could've been doing, but none of them would compare to this choice I've made to serve in the United States Army."
The decision to join the Army at such a young age was not one he made solely on his own. When he was exploring options to better himself, he had a role model in Watson and saw the opportunities the military provided her.
"When he was considering joining the Army, he reached out to me to get my input. I'm not sure if he looked into joining because I served or if it was something he stumbled on with friends or in high school, but when he asked me, I encouraged him to go for it," said Watson. "Andres was dealt an extremely difficult hand of cards from day one of his life. He overcame circumstances that defeat most people faced with the same, and I couldn't be more proud of the man and Soldier he is today."
Although Watson had always been there for Rivera, and they tried to stay in touch as much as possible on social media, Watson was still emotional when it came time to see Rivera in person for the first time in over a decade.
"If I'm being honest, I was very nervous to actually get to spend some time with him," Watson said. "I know that he thinks very highly of me and I didn't want him to get to know me more and be let down."
Fortunately, there was no being let down – for either of them.
"Our relationship now is as strong as ever. She constantly checks up on me and is always expressing her gratitude and love for me," Rivera said. "She is proud of me and I am proud of her."
Their relationship has strengthened because of this deployment, and Rivera says he has also developed and matured.
"Every person has a chance at greatness once they are put in this world," Rivera said. "But it's up to that person to become the best version of themselves."
Rivera and Watson agreed they would make it a goal to visit each other more often and stay in touch when they are back in the United States.
"I know that when we return back home, we will continue to grow our relationship," said Watson. "I have every intention of seeing him multiple times a year even though we live in two different states."