FARMINGTON — Rick Rivera retired 32 years ago from active duty on an aircraft carrier named USS America. Now his granddaughter, Monica Rivera, is planned to commission and navigate down the East Coast, around South America and back up to San Francisco on another aircraft carrier, also named USS America.
Retired Senior Chief Petty Officer Rick Rivera, 72, enlisted in the Navy in 1959 from Farmington. His granddaughter, 21, enlisted in 2010, and then reenlisted for another three years.
She flew back to Farmington to spend Christmas with her grandfather.
Rick Rivera has twice commissioned ships, a ceremony that places them into active duty and earns the crew a home on the ship. On old wood-slat ships, a crew that commissioned the ship earned the right to carve their names into the planks, he said. Now the Navy uses ceremonial plaques. When Petty Officer 2nd Class Monica Rivera docks in San Francisco, in 2014, she will also earn a plaque and a home aboard the new USS America.
"Kind of the same thing that happened to me is also happening to her," Rivera said.
Monica's routines aboard the carrier will mirror her grandfather's.
"Twelve (hours) on, 12 off," she said, "all the time, for months and months."
All her belongings will have to fit in a thin locker that slips beneath her mattress, she said, and she will dress identically to all her peers. She said it will be home for a long time.
"It was long, for one," Rick said. "But you get used to doing your job, so you just count off the days."
Rick said he got homesick. A week after he married his first wife, he shipped off for 13 months to Antarctica for Operation Deep Freeze, where he and about 250 other military officials supported scientists and their studies.
Rick has visited almost every country during his duty in the Navy. Monica said she enlisted to travel, and so get an education with her military benefits.
"I'm so excited, you don't even know," she said.
A lot is different between the eras they enlisted, though, they said.
Rick's USS America -- its hull name CUA 66 -- was an oil-burning aircraft carrier. A trailing oilier would refuel the carrier weekly, and destroyers and sometimes submarines would escort the armada. Rick spent nine months on that ship.
But now all cruisers are nuclear powered, Monica said, and her aircraft carrier is amphibious. It carries helicopters and airplanes that can swivel their burners down and launch vertically. Those aircraft do not require as long a runway as her grandfather's aircraft carrier had, Monica said. Monica's USS America's hull name is LHA 6.
"She's in a new Navy," Rick Rivera said. "Completely different."
And there never were women aboard his ship. Now Monica is one of many women who live beneath the ship's steel deck. She said its occupants are about half female now. And there are female fighter pilots, too.
"There's a lot of stuff that they didn't have then," Rick Rivera said.
"Equal opportunity," she said, smiling, adding, "we do anything that guys do."
Except special forces, she said.
Monica's mother, Ruby Rivera, said she was surprised when her daughter enlisted. Her daughter was girly in school, Ruby Rivera said. She said her daughter talked about the Navy, but she never thought it was serious.
"Then all of a sudden, she came around -- and I was like, 'Huh?'" Ruby Rivera said.
Both mother and grandfather are proud. Ruby Rivera is excited her daughter will see so much of the world. Rick Rivera said his granddaughter is following in his wake.
"It's your home," he said to his granddaughter. "The ship is your home."