U.S. war veterans will be retrained as eco-warriors in the Cayman Islands in a new nonprofit venture.
Dive resort Sunset House has teamed up with veterans in the U.S. to form Force Blue, which will train former special operations veterans to work on coral reef conservation projects around the world, starting in Cayman.
The organization’s goal is to introduce its first training class of six veterans at Sunset House early next year.
They will be trained in coral restoration by marine science experts and will help tend the resort’s new coral nursery. Other Cayman dive operators and the Central Caribbean Marine Institute in Little Cayman will also be involved.
Keith Sahm, general manager of Sunset House and co-founder of the new nonprofit, said, “It’s a win-win for everyone. Not only will Force Blue train these highly skilled men and women how to help restore damaged reefs, but it will also teach them to be spokespeople for ocean conservation worldwide.”
The idea for Force Blue developed in Grand Cayman last summer during discussions at Sunset House between Sahm, Rudy Reyes, a veteran of the Iraq war who played himself in the HBO drama series “Generation Kill,” and long-time friend Jim Ritterhoff. The men were diving daily, and Sahm gave them a tour of the resort’s new coral nursery where restoration work is being done. The diving proved therapeutic for Reyes, who had been battling with the challenges of civilian life after multiple combat deployments.
“We all know the struggles our veterans, particularly our Special Forces veterans, face coming home after years at war,” said Mr. Ritterhoff. “Our thought was, if we could somehow use diving and marine conservation to give them a positive mission, we could not only help them, but the planet as well.”
The organization’s initial two-week training program will take place entirely in Cayman, but the plan involves expanding Force Blue’s influence to different destinations around the world and bringing other teams aboard.
“Starting out, Cayman just makes the most logistical sense for us,” said Mr. Ritterhoff. “We have the contacts and support in Cayman to launch Force Blue in a powerful way. And Cayman affords us, not only access to one of the world’s healthiest and most vibrant coral reef systems, but access to some of the world’s finest conservation minds as well.”
Mr. Sahm added, “It’s all about raising awareness and reaching a new audience with a message of conservation and care and our veterans are the perfect ambassadors.”
A fundraising reception for the Force Blue program will be held in Dallas, Texas on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. Texas real estate magnate and Earth Day Texas founder Trammel S. Crow is hosting the event. The guest list includes retired U.S. Navy SEAL Admiral Ed Winter, retired USMC General David Garza, former Recon Marine Rudy Reyes, Benghazi survivor Kris “Tanto” Paronto, whose story was told in the film “13 Hours” and Chuck Pfarrer, former SEAL Team Six member and author of “SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama Bin Laden.”