From near-tragedy to triumph: How one Soldier secured a better future for his family while facing significant challenges

WTU Force Structure Staff Sgt. Rivera appears on top of a bulldozer as a leading member of his landfill site management team in Colorado. (Photo Courtesy of Daniel Rivera)

By Whitney Delbridge Nichels, Army Warrior Care and Transition

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA. - To say that Staff Sgt. Daniel Rivera has overcome obstacles would be an understatement of just how much his life has changed in a few short years.

The father of four and proud New York native says the call to serve runs in his family. His father was in the Army and his grandfather entered the Marine Corps at age 17, going on to become a Korean War veteran.

Rivera was working towards becoming first in the lineage to retire from active duty when a family crisis threatened his success and his future.

In 2015, Rivera says his two daughters were sexually assaulted, causing him to slip into a deep depression and triggering existing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“I found myself unable to function as a Soldier,” Rivera said.

By January 2016, his symptoms had reached their peak. During a very intense episode at Fort Benning, Rivera says he suffered a traumatic brain injury and almost died.

From this close call, Rivera was able to begin gaining the tools that would help him put his life back together.

“I was hospitalized for two months and, after stabilizing, was entered into the Intensive Outpatient Program where I was able to learn and develop new coping skills to help manage my symptoms,” Rivera said.

But he wasn’t out of the woods yet.

During follow up brain scans, doctors discovered an Arteriovenous Malformation and made the decision to remove the mass via brain surgery.

Drawing on the strength of his family and the support of his Warrior Transition Unit, Rivera pressed forward. While pending surgery, he participated in the Career and Education Readiness program, taking the opportunity to look for gainful employment outside the military while working on a degree in Business Management.

Shortly after a successful surgery, Rivera was on his way to Colorado to interview with a Waste Management Corporation.

His resilience and determination quickly paid off. Rivera was accepted into the company’s Disposal Operations Manager-Trainee program and now works as full-time manager.

According to Rivera’s leaders in the WTU, “[He] was able to pull himself up by his own bootstraps. His determination was exemplary of what we hope for many of our Wounded Warriors as he made his own fortune, rather than wait for things to happen for him.”

Short-term memory loss and migraines serve as a reminder of just how much he has been through, but Rivera says he is proud to have accomplished so much.

He describes the CER program as “the best tool a Soldier has to gain knowledge, skills, education and support through what can be a challenging transition.”

For those on the front side of that transition, Rivera offers these words of encouragement: “It takes time to adjust to life outside the military, but transitioning will never negate the sacrifice you have made. Be proud of your service, and understand that your time and career are now yours. Don’t be so caught up on the destination that you miss the journey.”