After several email exchanges weeks ago with avid Signal newspaper reader Jennifer Rivas, who informed me of her husband’s fine Navy service, I finally met Juan Rivas in their lovely home.
So let me introduce you to yet another great American in our community.
Juan Manuel Rivas was born in 1970 in Cali, Colombia, where he and his family lived until he was 2 years old when his father led the family by immigrating to London.
Juan’s family next immigrated to the United States via our visa program when he reached 10 years old.
They lived in Shenorock, a suburb of New York City, until moving yet again to Miami, where Juan graduated June 17, 1988, from Coral Gables High School lettering in soccer and track.
While in high school, Juan’s father worked as a waiter and Juan began his work ethic education as a bus boy and valet for several restaurants.
Immediately following high school graduation, at age 17, Juan convinced his very dejected mother to approve and sign his four-year U.S. Navy enlistment. Juan was actually much more interested in joining the U.S. Marine Corps but a slick Navy recruiter convinced him that he could earn his citizenship much easier, earn a college degree and become a fighter pilot.
Coincidentally, Tom Cruise’s 1986 blockbuster movie “Top Gun” was a big hit with Juan.
One week after high school, Juan began boot camp at the Orlando, Florida, Naval Training Center and next he was assigned to Millington Naval Air Station in Tennessee for aviation structural mechanics school.
Two months later and upon completion of aviation structural mechanic training, Juan learned that he had rated in the top five of his class and was allowed to select his next assignment.
Juan actually preferred staying as close to home in the East as possible, but realizing the home of Topgun training at Naval Air Station Miramar was an option, he chose California.
Juan was assigned to Miramar for five years and was deployed for 112 days aboard the USS Independence aircraft carrier.
When Desert Shield erupted in 1990, the USS Independence entered the Persian Gulf, remaining on station to deter further Iraqi aggression.
Juan’s primary responsibility, which was critical, was inspecting F-14 Tomcats onboard the carrier just prior to take-off patrolling the “no fly zone,” which Juan found incredibly exhilarating.
While crossing the Indian Ocean, Juan and his shipmates were astounded the day a Russian spy plane, a mammoth four-propeller aircraft nicknamed “Russian Bear,” flew low and slow over their carrier’s bow.
In December 1990, the USS Ranger relieved Juan’s USS Independence and they journeyed back to San Diego.
In 1992, after serving three years on the USS Independence, they arrived in Atsugi, Japan, for the next year.
Once Juan’s four-year enlistment came to a close he returned to Naval Station Miramar.
While he had been promoted to second class petty officer, rank E-5, Juan chose to re-enlist for another four-year stint.
Juan served two years at Miramar assigned to Navy Fighter Weapons School (AKA: Topgun training) and his chief responsibility was performing maintenance on A-4 Skyhawks.
1st Class Petty Officer
While at Miramar, Juan began yearning to serve much closer to his Miami family.
Thus, he sought and gained assignment back to Millington Naval Air Station for six months of specialty training. Juan became a non destructive inspection technician (NDI Tech) inspecting aircraft parts including jet engine blades.
In September 1994, Juan was next assigned to Helicopter Support Squadron 6 at Norfolk, Virginia, where he worked on Vietnam-era CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters.
At long last, Juan was proudly sworn in as a genuine United States citizen on Oct. 13, 1994.
In 1992, Juan married his first wife and they had two lovely daughters, Monica and Natalie, but sadly their marriage fell apart, resulting in a 2002 separation and a 2004 divorce.
Juan was promoted in June 1996 to 1st class petty officer, rank E-6, and became lead petty officer over a detachment of 26 sailors.
In 2002, while assigned as lead petty officer to the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, Juan purposely chewed out a young female sailor under his command for a minor infraction.
This brash sailor, Jennifer, would have none of it and promptly corrected Juan. He was immediately infatuated with her assertiveness, charm and beauty, leading to a long period of getting to know each other by having lunch together and talking as often as possible.
Once back at port in May 2003, they began dating for one year and as her Navy service concluded, they mutually decided that it was prudent to tie the knot.
By that time, they had jointly purchased a home and clearly were very happy together.
In 2004, they were married on a beautiful beach at Dam Neck Beach, Virginia, by a local justice of the peace with one witness present.
Shock and awe
Meanwhile, as a nondestructive inspection technician Juan deployed for five months aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2003 to the Mediterranean Sea and participated in “Iraqi Freedom.”
Their mission was launching constant nighttime air strikes, nicknamed “Shock and Awe”, against Saddam Hussein’s forces in Baghdad and Juan’s responsibility was inspecting and providing maintenance to the F-18 and F-14 fighter jets.
“Once our boys were airborne many of us retired to our break room and watched on TV our bombing of Baghdad,” Juan said. “As war raged on, we could see the effectiveness of our campaign became increasingly clear.”
Afterward, it was back to Norfolk, Virginia in 2005 where Juan received a life-changing set of orders assigned to the Dam Neck Naval Training Center, Virginia Beach.
He became a leadership trainer and facilitator for three years at several Navy installations in the Virginia Beach area and while there he trained leadership techniques to over 1,500 sailors ranked E-4 to E-7.
Juan also mentored 20 sailors to join him to become master trainers.
In September 2008, Juan earned his bachelor’s degree in human resources management from Excelsior College and he was promoted to chief petty officer (E-7) in 2006.
In 2008, Juan re-enlisted for three more years and was assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan.
As the ship’s leading chief petty officer in the Aircraft Division, Juan and the USS Bataan took an eight-month deployment to the Persian Gulf and three months for humanitarian support following Haiti’s horrific 2010 earthquake.
After 23.5 years, Juan was ranked fourth of 40 chief petty officers as he retired with an honorable discharge on Halloween, Oct. 31, 2011.
Military service, humanitarianism
Juan returned home to Jennifer and his two beautiful girls whom Jennifer was raising as her own.
Soon, Juan moved his family in search of warmer weather to Southern California and over the next several years he held various management leadership consulting positions with Edison, NBC, Universal and others.
In 2018, Juan became director of organization development with 20th Century Fox where he works to this day.
Along the way, he and Jennifer had planned to adopt a few children and following Jennifer’s volunteer work at a Ugandan orphanage home they adopted little 22-month-old Xavier in July 2016.
In December 2017, they adopted 12-year-old Johnny; both adoptions took a year to process.
While interviewing Juan, I was delighted to meet these two fine boys who enjoy playing soccer.
Juan and Jennifer, you are a true credit to our fine community and deserve high praise for your military service and your humanitarianism.
Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ’67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and is the director of Veterans Affairs for The Signal.