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Boy’s wish for Christmas — Dad back home

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Updated: January 23, 2014 6:34AM



There are times, Dominic Rivera says, when his little brother bugs him, and 11-year-old Dominic has to remind him who’s the big brother in the house.

“Sometimes he just kind of jumps on me, and I have to push him off,” the sixth grader at Central Middle School in Tinley Park said.

But for a school writing assignment this month, he promised Santa that he wouldn’t “antagonize” 5-year-old Brycen in exchange for just one gift this Christmas — the return of his father, Army Sgt. 1st Class John Rivera, from Afghanistan.

The soldier was able to make that Christmas wish a reality, surprising both his boys during an assembly Friday at the school. Rivera hadn’t seen his family since late May, and he missed Christmas last year.

“Luckily the cards fell into place” this year, he told reporters after the assembly, adding that he’s ready to dig into some real “Chicago food,” including pizza.

“That’s what the holidays are all about, spending time with loved ones,” Rivera said.

Surrounded by television cameras and microphones, Dominic said he was happy for his dad’s return, calling it a “little shocking.” Just a few people at the school were in on the secret, with most students and faculty just as surprised as Dominic when his dad, in his fatigues, walked across the gymnasium toward him.

Rivera’s wife, Janet, said it was “very, very hard” to keep the news from the boys.

Rivera said he got to “see” his family each day while overseas via Apple’s “facetime,” but coming home and seeing his family “reminds you of what you do” while serving in the Armed Forces.

His time at home will be relatively short. Rivera will head to Arizona early next month, where he’ll be involved in testing electronic equipment for the Army.

Central Middle School chipped in with gifts for the Rivera family, including concert tickets, movie passes and $500 worth of food and games at Dave & Busters.

Dominic said there will be plenty of time for that while his dad’s home, but he had a simpler idea for welcoming him home — planning to “sit down on the couch and veg out.”

Central Principal Randy Fortin — who played Santa, complete with the red suit — said Janet Rivera approached him about two or three weeks ago, hoping that her husband’s return could be turned into a surprise for Dominic.

In his writing assignment to Santa, Dominic wrote that the gift “I want more than anything this year is to have my dad come home from Afghanistan for Christmas. The reason why you should do this is because that’s all I want and I will not antagonize with my brother anymore.”

Janet Rivera, in tears and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support Friday, said “it’s very touching for everybody around.” She and her husband had their 12th anniversary Dec. 1, and it was through the military that they met, while stationed at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. Janet said she served two years in the Army, seeking her discharge after Dominic’s birth.

“We didn’t want to both be deployed at the same time,” she said.

John Rivera grew up in Evergreen Park and attended Evergreen Park High School. He enlisted in the Army in February 2001.

“I was 20 years old and didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said, noting the structure and discipline the military offered appealed to him. “It was the best choice I ever made.”



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