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Being deeply familiar with Afghan culture, Rivera helped various organizations put on cultural events to improve the refugees’ morale. His team also helped the Afghan refugees understand American cultural norms, laws, and society to help smooth their transition into American life.
Rivera facilitated communication between the Afghan refugees, other linguists, government organizations such as the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State, and nongovernmental organizations such as International Rescue Committee, International SOS, United States Council of Catholic Bishops, and Samaritan’s Purse. His efforts ensured the Afghans were treated fairly and their voices and concerns were heard. This earned Rivera the respect of the Afghans and he became well known within the community he was supporting.
Rivera said that the most challenging aspect of working as a part of Task Force Pickett was, “without a doubt coordination between joint services and other agencies that had a part in making this mission come together. Although it was challenging, it was worth it to make the lives of the refugees a little easier.”
Marine Corps Maj. Brian Hayek, of 23rd Marine Regiment and Rivera’s officer in charge during his time with TF-Pickett commended his actions stating, “CTI1 Rivera’s leadership positively impacted Task Force Pickett's overall mission to receive, house, secure, and sustain Afghan evacuees and was crucial in the success of Operation ALLIES WELCOME.”
In addition to Rivera’s role in language and cultural support, he handled the administrative needs of service members across multiple branches. Despite differences in administrative requirements, he created an efficient process to ensure all needs were met, fostering a healthy relationship between the joint partners. Rivera also provided oversight and quality control for 160 civilian contract linguists.
“When the call came for volunteers, CTI1 Rivera volunteered immediately. He wanted to serve and help those in need,” said Lt. Cmdr. Mark Wess, officer in charge, IWTC Monterey Detachment Goodfellow. “We are incredibly proud of his performance assisting Afghan refugees resettling across America. It was a true testament to his character and exemplified our Navy’s core values.”
Additionally Wess expressed the importance of Rivera’s contribution and the mission of Task Force Pickett saying, “We have an obligation to help the Afghans and it sent a message to the world that we assist our partners and allies in times of need.”
Rivera said the best part of the mission was, “seeing the refugees get on the bus to head off to their new homes. It was both bittersweet and satisfying. That was the real mission, helping someone who had left everything behind for the chance at a better, safer life in the U.S. To see them off and be able to do that meant everything.”
A mission like this can be once in a lifetime, and those who are fortunate to have gotten the opportunity can take away valuable lessons. Rivera said, “A little bit of kindness can go a long way and sometimes all someone wants is an ear to listen. Even with this being one of the most challenging and stressful times in their lives having left their country, former life, and even families, saying hello to one of the Afghans and just listening to them, especially over tea, could make all the difference in their day.”
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