By: Laura Butz
I recently had the honor of meeting U.S RECON Marine Sergeant Rudy Reyes who shared his story about being a former combat diver who’s now on a mission to help protect and restore the ocean. I cannot truly capture in words how profound his story is or the eloquent way he spoke about his life’s journey. Nor, can I begin to fathom the magnitude of his experience as a combat diver. All I can humbly offer is listening to him speak with such humility and passion, I was incredibly moved and a part of me is changed forever. Rudy’s new call of duty is empowering other Special Ops veterans to join FORCE BLUE’s conservation efforts to help restore critical marine ecosystems around the world.
During his first diving trip in the Cayman Islands nearly two years ago, something remarkable happened. The former combat diver found healing in the ocean as it revived his human spirit. It was then, FORCE BLUE was formed alongside his friends Jim Ritterhoff and Keith Sahm. The trip gave him a new purpose in life and a new mission to carry out. Rudy, Jim, and Keith are now co-founders of FORCE BLUE. Together, they are working to change the lives of veterans and the betterment of our environment. Rudy, along with six other team members of FORCE BLUE’s Team One, embarked on their first deployment in the Cayman Islands. The remarkable experience brought back a purpose into the lives of these humble and inspiring veterans.
View the trailer of Mercy, Love & Grace: The Story of Force Blue, below.
A Brotherhood United
FORCE BLUE Team One, includes seven combat diver veterans from around the world: Rudy Reyes, U.S. Air Force Silver Star recipient Roger Sparks, U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. Geoff Reeves, U.S. Marine Will Hinkson, U.S. Army Green Beret Sean Moore, British Royal Marine Commando Jon Slayer and former U.S. Military combat medic Nathan Quinn. FORCE BLUE’s first ever deployment was to aid in coral reef conservation efforts in the Cayman Islands. It was an unprecedented event, training veteran combat divers to recalibrate their unique skill set for ocean conservation. The training and work with coral reefs took place over the course of two weeks. The experience not only taught them about conservation but led them to learn something new about themselves. It gave them an opportunity to go through a transformative journey of rebuilding their lives, brotherhood, and being part of something that was much bigger than themselves. They are a new voice for ocean conservation.
As they applied the knowledge acquired during 130 total hours of classroom training and learning about preserving coral reefs, it allowed them to see the positive impact they were creating. In particular, working with Cayman’s Coral Nursery Recovery Program and out-planting viable coral fragments onto damaged coral reefs showed them first-hand how they were making a difference.
For these seven veteran combat divers, their undeniable desire and dedication to a life of service have transitioned into a new cause, one of hope and healing for both the ocean and veterans. This experience gave them a sense of belonging and togetherness once again. These veterans were able to find a place in society where they can live a mission oriented lifestyle. Their motto, “One team. One fight” is a mantra uniting the veterans together as a new brotherhood and family, as they fight to save the ocean. Additionally, a unique bond was built amongst the special operations community, the scientific community and the environmental community as they unified as one team working on a common goal, preservation of coral reefs and ocean conservation.
Engaging in diving and exploring the wonderment of the ocean and coral reefs allowed the veterans to form a deeper connection to nature. Being surrounded by the vast beauty of the ocean, they discovered how interconnected we all are and our dependency on this fragile life-support system. As they engrossed themselves in restoring coral reefs, it taught them to have a new perspective on life. The powerful experience of their journey led them to find healing through ocean conservation and ultimately the healing that came from finding mercy, love and grace. Their new call to duty, ocean conservation, is a noble pursuit for the betterment of the environment and to help transform the lives of veterans.