Army has allowed teammate to live his dream on and off the field

by Mark Heeter
U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz
Enrique “Tato” Rivera played for the Army all-star baseball team in both 2004 and 2009. — Courtesy photo

“If our flight hadn’t been delayed, we would have been at the terminal when the bomb went off, not exactly in the terminal where it was, but we would have been there,” said Enrique “Tato” Rivera, recalling the day he arrived to work for the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux.

Rivera, an operations specialist with Installation Management Command-Europe, together with his wife and son, were on their way to Zaventem Airport in Brussels on March 22, 2016, when terrorists attacked the airport, killing 32 and injuring more than 300 people.

“When we landed here, we didn’t deplane almost until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. We were on the plane for all those hours, he said. “Thanks to God our flight was delayed an hour and 30 minutes.”

Arriving at USAG Benelux, an assignment in Europe was something Rivera wanted to experience, having not been stationed in Europe throughout the 20 years he served in the Army, prior to retiring in 2015.

“There are so many beautiful places in Europe that you can go out and see,” said Rivera, who followed USAG Benelux working at Army Futures Command, before returning to Europe last July. “That’s one of our goals in our time off, to hit the places that we didn’t have the opportunity to see last time we were here.”

In addition to traveling, Rivera has another off-duty passion that continues to keep him busy — one that stretches back to his youth, growing up in Puerto Rico. He has revived and is coaching the IMCOM-Europe softball team, and he also plays for the Wiesbaden travel team.

“I was a member of the all-star military baseball team in 2004 and 2009,” he said. “If you make the team, for six months out of the year, you play baseball.”

The 2009 team played in the U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility, which allowed Rivera to play against top-flight teams in countries throughout South and Central America.

“And the folks that we played are the professional teams for that country,” he said. “For instance, when we went into the Dominican Republic, the teams that we played are the academies — the Yankees Academy, the Boston Red Sox Academy, the Texas Rangers.”

“Those years when I was there, I’m really glad that my commands let me play. That was one of the greatest parts of my Army career, because I was able to go back to what I was dreaming to be able to do,” said Rivera, who played professionally as a shortstop in Puerto Rico, before joining the Army.

Now Rivera is doing more designated hitting and catching, he said with a smile, while easily describing what he likes most about the shortstop position.

“You can control everything. You’re like the captain of the field,” he said.

Enrique “Tato” Rivera has been an operations specialist with IMCOM-Europe since July 2023 and volunteers as the coach for the IMCOM-Europe softball team. — Photo by Mark Heeter