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Airman spotlight: Meet 819th RHS commander

Colonel Jose L. Rivera Hernandez is the commander of the 819th RED HORSE Squadron, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. The 819th RED HORSE Squadron is one of four Air Force active duty specialized heavy construction and repair combat engineering units providing a highly mobile, self- sufficient agile combat support capability to the warfighter.

Colonel Jose L. Rivera Hernandez is the commander of the 819th RED HORSE Squadron, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. The 819th RED HORSE Squadron is one of four Air Force active duty specialized heavy construction and repair combat engineering units providing a highly mobile, self- sufficient agile combat support capability to the warfighter.

Col. Jose Rivera Hernandez, right, accepts command of the 819th RED HORSE Squadron from Col. Scott Caine, Ninth Air Force vice commander, during a change of command ceremony at the Airfields Hangar July 12. Senior Master Sgt. Paul Anderson, 819th RHS first sergeant, looks on. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Magen M. Reeves)

Col. Jose Rivera Hernandez, right, accepts command of the 819th RED HORSE Squadron from Col. Scott Caine, Ninth Air Force vice commander, during a change of command ceremony at the Airfields Hangar July 12. Senior Master Sgt. Paul Anderson, 819th RHS first sergeant, looks on. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Magen M. Reeves)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- In July, Col. Jose L. Rivera Hernandez assumed command of the 819th RED HORSE Squadron, an event he and his family were looking forward to. 

“My wife is from eastern Montana, near Glendive, so in a way it’s like coming home for her,” Rivera said. “Plus, we always talked about moving here [ever] since I was a lieutenant. My family and I love the outdoors, and it’s a great family-oriented community so we’re settling in quite nicely.”

For the Puerto Rico native, being in Montana adds to his diverse list of assignments since enlisting in the Air Force in 1992 as an airman first class. Since then, Rivera’s Air Force travels have taken him throughout the east coast of the U.S., as well as North Dakota and Colorado. During his time overseas, Rivera has been to Greenland, Germany, England and Turkey. Rivera has also deployed multiple times to Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

With a significant number of duty assignments, Rivera said it’s difficult to narrow down his favorite duty station.

“To choose one favorite assignment wouldn’t be fair. Each place I’ve been to has been different and unique,” he continued. “Especially with being on deployment, it’s important to learn different cultures and know how it can relate to supporting the mission. By understanding other people’s perspectives, it’s been a benefit for me in my career, because it’s helped me to become more patient with people.”

Rivera recalls one example when he was stationed in Iraq and noticed a group of women walking two miles every day from a village to a nearby river to get water for their families. Soon afterward, his unit decided to construct a well in the middle of the village, so they didn’t have to walk back and forth every day. However, their endeavor wasn’t well received.

“When we built the well, we thought it would be an easy victory, but it soon alienated the women of the town,” 
Rivera said. “We learned soon afterward that their daily journey to the river was their personal times to themselves. Going there was their ‘me time,’ and we interrupted that ritual, so in hindsight it’s always good to assess the environment first and get to know the culture. That was a shining example of when you should ask yourself, ‘will our efforts be embraced by the local people?’”

Along with lessons that are learned along the way, it comes with its share of challenges. Rivera has seen those during the beginning of his tenure as a squadron commander.

“We’re in the position where we’re sharing our mission objectives with the Guard and the Reserve,” 
Rivera said. “Currently, we’re in the supporting role, but we’re slowly getting back into the deployment cycle. We haven’t deployed in three years, so the challenges of getting the squadron back into that training and deploying mode are there. As long as I and my chiefs remind our Airmen that we are an elite combat engineering unit and instill in their minds that they play a vital role in the mission at hand, everything will work out.”

With that said, that is one aspect that Rivera is looking forward to during his time at the squadron.

“To get these young guys doing what they’re trained for, I’m really excited about that,” 
Rivera said. “We’ve got a lot of talent in this unit and to see it being used out there in the field makes it fulfilling.”

However, Rivera likes to remind his Airmen that being with family is the one important aspect that should never be forgotten.

“I remind my Airmen that the work will always be there tomorrow. Be with your family and enjoy those moments today,” 
Rivera said. “I have three kids doing all kinds of activities, so I’ll make it a point to be there to support them. I think that if my Airmen don’t see me stay late into the evening, it lets them know that it’s okay to have your family come first, and it should always be that way.”