Crystal River ROTC program gets new commander julie gorham / citrus chronicle

CRYSTAL RIVER — When it comes to commanding, Chief Warrant Officer Elizabeth Rivera says no problem.

After spending 32 years in the United States Navy, Rivera is now supervising the young cadets of the Crystal River High School Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

“My last active duty was May 31, so it’s been a total of three months since I retired and started my second career,” Rivera said last Thursday. “I was the community manager for chief warrant officers in the Navy, managing about 1,700 chief warrant officers and 20-plus dignitaries.”

She retired as a chief warrant officer 5 (CW5), which, she notes, is a rare position for a woman — and, now is the first woman senior naval science teacher for the high school’s JROTC program.

“I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback from the kids,” Rivera said. “They seem to be excited,” she said, noting part of the enthusiasm stems from her being the first female instructor since the program started at Crystal River High School in 1972.

The Citrus County School District is the home to three JROTC programs: Citrus High School’s Air Force, Crystal River High School’s Navy and Lecanto High School’s Army.

JROTC is a federal program sponsored by the United States armed forces in high schools nationwide.

“We teach students life skills for whatever they do after high school,” Rivera said. “I want to instill in students to be better citizens, give them a sense of accomplishment, better leadership skills and to have better communication.”

Rivera was born and raised in New York City. After living in many countries, she decided to retire in Florida.

“I knew I was going to Florida. I knew I wanted to be a JROTC instructor. I just didn’t know where, ” she said.

She said with family being just an hour or so to the south, Crystal River seemed perfect so she took the position without hesitation.

However, in the first three weeks of school, many students are asking for advice about being a woman in a high ranking position in the military, she said.

“That makes me feel good — that is what I got this job for; to be a mentor and role model for our future leaders, which has become a lot of females since I started back in the ‘80s,” Rivera said. “This is the 21st century, and a lot of women are becoming empowered by good mentors, and that’s what I want to do.”

Rivera says although she did retire from the Navy, she would like to see an entire class rise through the grades from a freshmen to seniors at the high school to see them “grow” in personal strengths.

“I’m excited to see what the next year has to bring,” Rivera said. “I have a great group of kids to lead who can learn a lot and I’m sure will teach me, too. This is one of those careers that you don’t do for the money; you do it because you really want to help kids, watch them grow and teach them values of being a decent human beings.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Julie Gorham at 352-563-3236 or jgorham@chronicleonline.com.

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