The idea for FORCE BLUE grew out of a dive trip co-founders Jim Ritterhoff and Rudy Reyes took to the Cayman Islands in Summer 2015 to meet up with their friend, Keith Sahm, General Manager of Sunset House, the oldest continuously operated dive resort in the Caribbean.
For Ritterhoff and Sahm, experienced recreational divers who’d been reef diving for decades, this was just another week in paradise. But for Reyes, a former Recon Marine who had struggled with PTS and depression since returning home from multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the experience was nothing short of life changing.
“Here’s this trained combat diver,” Ritterhoff remembers. “One of the best, most highly skilled individuals you’ll ever encounter underwater. Yet he’s never seen a fish.”
For Reyes, like most SOF veterans, diving had never been about exploration or enjoyment. To him diving meant hauling 200 lbs. of gear underwater to destroy some potentially dangerous target in the dead of night. What Cayman offered was transformative.
“By day two Rudy’s smile was back.” Says Sahm. “By day four, his purpose.”
Reyes immediately proposed scheduling another trip so that he could bring down more of his Recon brothers to experience what he just had. But after a few hours of discussion, the three men hatched a different plan. One that would include combat divers from all branches of service, along with marine scientists, coral reef conservationists, journalists, even celebrities.
“We saw it as the ultimate win-win.” Says Sahm. “An opportunity to do some good, not only for our veterans, but for the planet as well.”
“By starting a program that isn’t just about helping veterans or just about helping coral reefs, but about helping both, we’re really uniting two worlds.” Says Ritterhoff. Hopefully, FORCE BLUE will encourage each to look at the other with a bit more empathy and understanding.”