AUBURN — Jose Rivera learned to drive in a 1979 Cadillac coupe. He told a Connecticut recruiter he loved to drive. The recruiter told him he’d like the Army.
Rivera joined three days after he turned 18 in 1997.
He served in four overseas tours and a year in Korea — with plenty of miles logged. Now the master sergeant oversees 99 men, 60 tractors and more than 120 trailers out of the Army Reserve Training Center on Minot Avenue.
The 619th Transportation Co. based there is the reserve’s only transportation unit in the state. He chose Maine over Ohio and Puerto Rico after a promotion two years ago.
“I control all the assets,” Rivera, 38, said. “I control the operation piece of how many trucks go out, how many trucks are needed for a specific mission.”
Last year, that meant organizing 120 soldiers and 76 trucks to help the Canadian military move equipment from one side of Canada to the other.
Earlier this year, it meant planning an equipment run of 40 soldiers and 20 trucks from Pennsylvania to Fort Knox, Kentucky. With 29 days notice, he plotted every hotel, meal and rest stop from Maine to Kentucky and back.
“When the guys rolled out, they had where they were stopping, how long it was going to take them, turn-by-turn directions — and that’s my piece — that’s what I do here as the senior truck master,” said Rivera, who also oversees a small detachment out of Dexter.
Rivera grew up in New York and moved to Connecticut at age 12. His deployments once he joined the U.S. Army came in quick succession: Iraq in 2003, arriving two weeks before the invasion with the 101st Airborne Division, then again in Iraq from September 2004 to January 2006 and in 2009 with the Army reserve.
“The Iraq tours, we would drive from Mosul all the way down to Kuwait,” he said. “That’s a good two, three days, depending on how much daylight (there is). My deployments always had a significance; there was always something major going on.”
In 2011, back at home, Rivera was offered a role with the active duty reserves in Florida.
Right after Rivera reported for duty, he was told he’d be leaving for Afghanistan in six months.
Three days after hitting the ground there, his youngest son was born.
“I’ve got five (children) and my two sons are the two births I missed,” Rivera said.
“My first son, I missed during my second tour,” he said. “He was born and when I got home, it was nine months later that I got to meet him. It just so happens that (when) my second son (was born), I’m deployed again and I get to meet him nine months later.
“It’s funny — even with both of my sons and nine months later, I was able to connect very fast,” he said.
The family lives in Brunswick.
In addition to organizing missions, Rivera handles requests for the unit. Trucks are requested for parades or funeral processions. Recently, trucks were requested for a recruiter’s event outside a Portland Sea Dogs game.
Last month, he had a first when a local mom called in: Her son was turning 13 in a few days and had been having some challenges. He hoped to join the Army when he came of age.
“She said, ‘Can you get maybe one or two soldiers? It would be great if they could show up in uniform — my son would love it,'” Rivera said.
He emailed other soldiers, relaying the request. Volunteers immediately stepped up.
“At the end of the day, two soldiers turned out to be five and a Humvee,” he said. “They did an outstanding job. She was so ecstatic. The kid was happy.”