JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
It might be the handmade signs posted on the front desk. It could be the smile. It may just be an encouraging word or greeting.
In all likelihood, it's all three.
But one thing is certain: food services specialist Marcella Rivera is making a difference for trainees in the 324th Training Squadron who come through her cashier line to enter the squadron's dining facility.
"Uplifting - that's the key word from trainee comment sheets," said Chief Master Sgt. James Biggerstaff, 324th TRS superintendent.
Rivera's colorful homemade signs range from words of encouragement to congratulations. She started posting the signs at her station and on the wall last year as a way to honor the men and women she calls heroes.
"When they come in, there's only so much I can say to them," Rivera said. "I thought if I made a sign, it would show what I'm thinking."
It didn't take long for the squadron's new training superintendent to notice.
"I saw the signs and thought, 'Wow, somebody really cares,'" Biggerstaff said. "If you're standing at attention for 10 minutes waiting to eat, you're reading positive comments.
"It's a very stale environment when you walk into one of these older dining facilities," he said. "I know I'd rather read a positive comment than stare at a stale wall."
To Rivera, who's worked in the 324th TRS dining facility for five years, she's just being herself while doing her job.
"I try to be their biggest supporter," Rivera said. "I know a lot of them are far away from home, some for the first time. I want them to know I appreciate their dedication and sacrifice for joining the military.
"To me, these men and women are heroes. If I can offer a kind word or a smile, that's my way of giving back. Their job is to fight for our country and I feel my job as a civilian is to support our troops."
Biggerstaff said that the atmosphere Rivera creates sets an uplifting tone among the trainees.
"She puts them in the right mood," he said. "Normally they get 15 minutes to eat; it's a somber, quiet time. So right before they eat, she's the last person they see. (Her positive attitude) really helps them."
Airman Basic Jesslyn Brooks agrees with her senior leader's assessment on how Rivera can influence a trainee's mood.
"She's always got a smile on her face," Brooks said. "She may only say, 'Good afternoon trainee,' but that and her smile can make you feel better about yourself.
"Even though she doesn't know any of us, it's helped to motivate me, to keep me going with a positive attitude. We're always in a better mood after seeing her."