AL ASAD, Iraq -- When Michael A. Rivera graduated from high school in June 2001 he started working for a company that made burners for residential heating systems. A few months later, when the attacks on America occurred, the company began losing business and Rivera, 17 years old at the time, lost his job.
Many of the companies in New York City were not hiring and Rivera stopped attending computer graphics design school because he couldn’t afford it anymore. Talking with one of his cousins, who had always wanted to become one of the few and the proud, the idea came up of stopping by the Marine Corps recruiter’s office and signing on the dotted line.
In January 2002, Rivera left the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., and reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., to go through 13 weeks of basic training to earn the title Marine. After graduating from boot camp he went to Camp Geiger, N.C., for a two-week course on basic infantry skills.
Once done with Marine Combat Training, Rivera traveled to sunny California and reported to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, where he attended Marine Corps Communications Electronics School. He went through the small computer specialists’ course and was one of the first Marines to take the tactical data-networking course, where he learned advanced routing and switching configurations and how to operate tactical servers.
Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2 at Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C., welcomed him in January 2003 and assigned him to the communications and data operations department as a computer repairman. In February 2004 he deployed to Iraq to reinforce the communications and data operations department of Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced).
Based at Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, Calif., MAG-16 (Rein) was the aviation combat element of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force in charge of conducting stability and security operations in western Iraq last year.
During his tour here, Rivera became friends with an Iraqi man who told him Saddam’s regime had killed his family and that he was grateful for the presence of U.S. Marines in Iraq. “That made me real happy to be here,” said Rivera. “It makes me feel good to know I can help people out.”
After seven months in Iraq, Rivera returned to eastern North Carolina and rejoined the ‘Deuces Wild.’ Shortly after, he found out he was scheduled to come back to Iraq.
The pesky dust devils of Al Asad, mini whirlwinds of twirling dust and sand, had a chance to harass him again in January when he set foot on this former Iraqi air base for a second tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Rivera, who has achieved the rank of corporal, is assigned to the communications and data department of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) and serves as the data and video teleconference noncommissioned officer.
His job requires him to help keep up communications, take care of computer problems for commanders and staff noncommissioned officers working in the tactical air command center and setting up video teleconferences for the commanders here to communicate with other commanders in Iraq. He goes out of his way and helps as many Marines as he can with their computer problems and does morale video teleconferences to help Marines here keep in touch with their families back home.
Master Sgt. Gregory L. Biggs, 2nd MAW (Fwd) communications chief, said Rivera stands out from his peers because of his dedication to completing any task assigned to him.
“He believes in what he is doing and he doesn’t settle for just completing the task,” said the Dickinson, Texas, native. “He takes any task he’s given and doesn’t stop until it is completed above and beyond what is required, and that is the mark of a leader.”
Rivera picked the communications and data operations field when he enlisted because his mother always asked him to learn about computers. He said she believed working with computers in the Corps would be a very safe job.
Safe or not, it has brought Rivera to western Iraq on two occasions in two years.
“Being deployed to Iraq for a second time has made me realize the people of this country need help,” said Rivera. “It makes me glad to see we can help rebuild a nation in such a short time. With all the good we have done here, the people of Iraq can live safe, free lives without worrying about someone taking it away in an instant.”
According to Biggs, some of Rivera’s best traits are his dedication to being a Marine, his aggressiveness in completing any task, his belief in doing his job to the best of his ability to really make a difference, and not being afraid to make a mistake and learn from it. “He’s the type of Marine any (staff noncommissioned officer) would die to have in their unit.”
Rivera, proud to be serving in Iraq, sees the Marine Corps in his future and is determined to make it a career. “I want to make the Marine Corps better,” he said. “With a better Marine Corps we’ll be able to accomplish better things.”
The accomplishments of the 2nd MAW (Fwd) can be measured day after day as it helps reduce the number of terrorists and insurgents in Iraq and assists the Iraqis in developing their own armed forces to protect the country on their own. Rivera, by keeping communications here up and running, is doing his part in the making of a brighter Iraq.
- For more information about the Marine reported on in this story, please contact Sgt. Juan Vara by e-mail at email@example.com -