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Rivera salutes military

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FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Ron Rivera isn't unique in the NFL coaching fraternity when it comes to the hours he keeps: early mornings, late nights, lots of structure, not a lot of down time.

Rivera is unique, however, in one regard: He maintained a similar lifestyle long before he was old enough to step foot on an NFL field.

The first-year Panthers head coach learned about discipline, structure and work ethic during a childhood spent on five different military bases in three countries, and he spent Friday reminiscing during a day-long trip along with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to Fort Bragg, the second-largest U.S. Army base in the world.

"I had a lot of flashbacks today," Rivera said. "Reveille at our base was at six o'clock, but my dad used to get up at 5:30 and would be out of the house at six. On his way out, he'd wrap on everybody's door, telling us it was time to get up.

"Then on Saturdays, there was no sleeping in. By seven, every lawn mower on base was on."

Rivera said he'd be a different person if not for his military upbringing, if not for a childhood that helped prepare him for the demands of football at the highest level – as both a player and a coach.

His father, Eugenio, was drafted into the Army in 1952, and he turned a two-year duty into a 32-year commitment that included two tours in Vietnam. Ron Rivera was born at Fort Ord on Monterey Bay, Calif. - the third youngest of four boys – and he subsequently lived in Germany and the Panama Canal zone. He called Fort Ord home four different times during his youth.

When Rivera developed into a football star at Seaside High School near Fort Ord, he considered following in his father's footsteps but instead chose a field where "bombs" are considered daring rather than dangerous.

"I was actually recruited to go to West Point," Rivera said. "My father told me that the military might not be the best career option for me with the opportunity I had to go to college and play. That's the path I decided to take."

Rivera's decision resulted in an All-American career at California as a linebacker, a standout NFL career with the Chicago Bears that included a Super Bowl, and now a lengthy coaching career that recently resulted in his first head coaching position.

Rivera never was in the military, but the military certainly is in him. That was on full display Friday, when he comfortably commiserated with Army personnel in a combat training facility and the parachute office, but also at more casual settings like a dining facility and a family recreation center.

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"Because of my background, growing up in the military, I think this is the least I could do, especially in light of our current situation, being at war," Rivera said. "We appreciate their sacrifices and what they mean to us, giving us the opportunity to play professional football and protecting the freedoms and rights of this country."

At various spots around Fort Bragg, soldiers lined up for an opportunity to meet Rivera, Goodell and former Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker.

William Evans, a food service specialist serving in his hometown of Fayetteville, was among those that stopped by.

"This is awesome, having them come here," Evans said. "I'm a Panthers fans, born and raised, a North Carolinian and a Panthers fan.

"On game day, we get complaints if the TVs aren't on the NFL. We have them on CNN a lot of times, but on Sunday people want it on the games."

Evans came away with some signed photographs, but Rivera felt like he headed home with much more.

Tangibly, he received the U.S. Army Garrison coin for Fort Bragg, and he also received an Airborne patch from a soldier.

Rivera said he'd cherish the patch, which the soldier likened to a Super Bowl ring, but Rivera pocketed even more valuable intangibles from the day.

"I feel honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to come here and spend time with these soldiers and their families," Rivera said. "The biggest thing about today was the people. One of the things I found truly amazing was everybody saying, 'Please' and 'Thank you.' They were thanking me when truthfully I just wanted to thank them."

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