MARIANNA, Fla.— From fighting for freedom, to fixing a fender, Tony Rivera is proud to serve others however he can.
Tony Rivera, 31, served in the Air Force for six years.
The former staff sergeant enlisted in July of 2005, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Once enlisted, he went to training in San Antonio, Texas.
“It wasn’t bad,” he said of the experience. “I had a lot of fun, learned a lot of technical skills.”
Rivera’s first duty station was Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska.
“We worked with the Army,” he said. “We worked with the paratroopers and dropping their equipment.”
Rivera said he also saw action overseas, although the location is undisclosed. Due to operational security, the amount of information that Rivera could share was limited.
“I can say the days leading up to it were nerve-racking,” he said. “Everything was getting ready and I was getting worried. And then you get there, and it’s your brothers and sisters. You find a way to have fun and you don’t really enjoy it, but you make it through.”
Rivera said the people he met and served with became very close to him.
“One thing I miss would be the camaraderie and the fellowship,” he said. “When you get back, civilian life is very different. The friendships I made, I still have today. We still keep in touch.”
Rivera didn’t have that opportunity with every friend, however.
“Losing friends kind of makes you realize what’s important in life and what’s not,” he says.
Rivera says that transitioning from military to civilian life can be a challenge. According to Rivera, the difficulty comes from the military offering significant amounts of structure— something not quite as available in everyday civilian life.
“I think because you have the stability and the rigid standards in the military, at first when you get out, you go a little wild and have to re-adjust because you’re so used to it,” he says. “I think what’s instilled in you while you’re in the military helps you become a very stable person. And you’re good at problem-solving, keeping yourself on track. I think the hardest part is losing that rigidity that the military has.”
Among the things the military has offered Rivera is growth as a person.
“I’ve learned discipline,” he said. “They’ve taught me skill sets I would’ve probably never had otherwise, confidence, problem-solving skills. I learned how to deal with situations appropriately.”
Rivera left the military in July of 2011. He currently works for the service department for Marianna Toyota.
Rivera says that despite the trials he faced in the military, he would still do it all over again.
“Even though it was tough, having the friends like that and that closeness and knowing I’m doing something to serve my country,” he said. “It makes you feel good at the end of the day, knowing you’ve tried to do your part for the country that’s done what it has for you.”