Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Army Sgt. Edwin Rivera

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Edwin Rivera, 28, of Waterford, Conn.

Sgt. Rivera was assigned to 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment, Connecticut National Guard, Norwalk, Conn.; died May 25, 2010 at National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., of wounds sustained May 20 when his unit was attacked by enemy forces using indirect fire at Contingency Outpost Xio Haq, Afghanistan.

Last summer, six months before he was deployed to Afghanistan for the second time, infantry Sgt. Edwin Rivera sat in his car in the driveway of his parents' house in Waterford and explained to his mother why he was returning to war.

It was the sad faces of the children that he had seen in Afghanistan during his first tour there in 2006, he told his mother, faces that still reminded him of why American soldiers were there.

"When the U.S. soldiers drive by," Rivera told his mother Gladys that night, "the children will scramble like mad in the dust just to get thrown a simple pencil from us. They don't even have pencils. I was born for this, it's my duty, to protect those families over there."

Now there is chilling immediacy to her memories, for Rivera has paid a high price for returning to those Afghan faces.

Rivera, 28, died on Tuesday night as a result of wounds he received in a firefight in Laghman Province last Thursday. His family arrived at his bedside Sunday and was with him until he died, Whitford said.

“They are taking the loss very, very hard and appreciate the outpouring of support,” Whitford said. “The family came back this morning from Bethesda (Md.), and we are assisting them in any way possible with the wake, funeral and emotional support the family may need at this time. It’s very overwhelming. They’re having a very difficult time.”

Rivera, a 2000 graduate of Waterford High School, left for Afghanistan in early January with the 1st Battalion of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, a Connecticut National Guard unit based in New Haven. Many of them, like Rivera, were on their second and third deployments to Afghanistan or Iraq. Rivera's 700-member deployment group, which included the 250th Engineer Company of New London, was the largest deployment of the Connecticut Guard since the Korean War.

Rivera's family lives on a winding street of modest, meticulously-kept houses about a mile from the New London line. His parents are hard-working Puerto Ricans who moved here in the 1970s, raised a family and were proud to have their only son assert his identity as an American soldier, even after they faced the hardship of his first deployment in 2006 being extended from a promised 12 months to 15 months.

Rivera, his mother said, returned from that long posting in Afghanistan personally subdued and doubtful about the progress American troops were making there. But he gradually recovered his old cheer and, after returning to his job as an evening shift security guard at the Millstone nuclear power plant, dove back into family routines.

Rivera's wife, Yesenia, usually leaves home early for her job in a dental office, so Rivera dressed and fed their two sons, saw them off to the school bus, and picked them up after school before reporting for his shift at the nuclear plant. After he learned that he would be deployed a second time, Rivera bought a webcam for his computer at home, so he and Yesenia could see each other on his occasional calls home.

Those routines changed after Rivera left in January. His children got off the bus instead at their grandmother's. On weekends, his father, Ceferino, performed all the chores and mowed the lawns at Rivera's house.

"The center of the family shifts back to my house when Edwin is gone," Gladys Rivera said. "I take the boys after school and, of course am overjoyed to have them. But it's also a daily reminder that Edwin is gone, so far away in a hard country."

And now, of course, there are the faces and lives of other children to consider — two American children.

Last November, while Rivera was preparing for deployment to Afghanistan at a training base in Indiana, Gladys found his son, Lorenzo, lying on the couch in her living room, staring at a photograph of his father in his Army uniform. Lorenzo was 4. When his grandmother asked him what he was doing, Lorenzo said, "I'm just looking at Daddy. I miss him already."

Army Sgt. Edwin Rivera was killed in action on 5/25/10.

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