Nonprofit Provides Scuba Diving Opportunities for Veterans

Angelo Fiore and Nate Quinn, both divers working with Force Blue, a nonprofit veterans organization, gear up before going on a mission to collect and transplant coral reef in Puerto Rico.
Angelo Fiore and Nate Quinn, both divers working with Force Blue, a nonprofit veterans organization, gear up before going on a mission to collect and transplant coral reef in Puerto Rico, Nov. 20, 2017. Fiore, Quinn and other veteran divers have been in Puerto Rico restoring coral reefs damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. (Spc. Samuel D. Keenan/U.S. Army photo)

Their mission is to preserve and restore. For newly formed nonprofit Force Blue that means uniting two very different worlds: coral reef conservation and Special Operations Forces veterans.

With a structure that mirrors that of a military-style training program, Force Blue teaches former spec ops warriors how to translate their training and teamwork into transplanting corals and rebuilding reefs.

"Force Blue gives former combat divers a chance to experience and explore one of the most critically endangered ecosystems on the planet," Executive Director Jim Ritterhoff said. "And to utilize their skills to aid in that ecosystem's protection."

Force Blue is the brainchild of Ritterhoff and his co-founders, Keith Sahm and Recon Marine Rudy Reyes, who came up with the idea after a dive trip to the Cayman Islands in 2015.

Reyes, who has struggled in his own transition to civilian life after multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, sees Force Blue as a way for SOF veterans like himself to find renewed purpose and a positive mission after years of war fighting.

"After all the investment, all the blood, sweat and tears, why not give these highly skilled men and women a chance to heal themselves and heal the planet?" Reyes said.

Said Sahm: "It's a redeployment of talent and training -- a win-win that benefits everyone."

Force Blue received a boost last month from Earth Day Texas founder Trammell S. Crow at a fundraising event on their behalf in Dallas.

"I am honored to have hosted such distinguished heroes of the United States, and to introduce a vital and worthy conservation project that can have significant positive impact to endangered reefs the world over," Crow said.

Internationally renowned marine scientist Ellen Prager, a Force Blue board member, spoke about what she sees as the organization's differentiating strength.

"Beyond what Force Blue can do for our Special Operations veterans, many of whom are struggling just like our coral reefs are struggling, it gives us a chance to create a new cadre of marine conservation spokespeople who haven't been heard from before -- men and women who've served their country and are now serving the planet," Prager said.

Force Blue is now raising the funds necessary to put its first team of divers into the water off Grand Cayman and Little Cayman in early 2017 and is partnering with companies like TAD PGS, a job placement agency that will assist with job placement, career counseling and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) guidance for Force Blue team members.

FORCE BLUE is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that seeks to unite the community of spec ops veterans with the world of coral reef conservation for the betterment of both. Our mission is to assist SOF veterans in their transition back to civilian life by restoring their esprit de corps and giving them a positive outlet through which to utilize their training and teamwork to help preserve the planet.

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