Special operation warriors use military skills to restore coral reefs

DANA POINT – Rudy Reyes, a retired Recon Marine scout sniper, dropped from helicopters during combat dives in the Persian Gulf.

He pulled dead Marines from the Euphrates River during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He used his scout swimmer abilities to infiltrate small islands on the Euphrates during the Battle of Fallujah and set up strongholds for the Marines.

“It was challenging and very hard work,” said Reyes, 45. “To keep that edge — very few can do it. War is a young man’s game. A lot of brothers are struggling because there’s an emptiness when they get out. We can’t do what we used to do.”

But they can use those skills learned as wartime combat divers for the betterment of the planet.

That’s the concept behind Force Blue. The new nonprofit was created to take thousands of combat divers – veterans already trained by the U.S. Armed Forces – and put their skills toward coral reef conservation around the world. It’s not only a conservation goal, but an attempt at healing.

The post-war struggle of no longer working as a team and not having a mission to fulfill contributed to Reyes’ difficulties with post-traumatic stress disorder.

After retiring from the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton in 2005, he looked to continue his military gig. He signed on as a military contractor and worked in the Middle East and Africa. He sought a greater purpose for his life and a way to continue working as part of a close-knit team for the benefit of something else.

Recently, Reyes and New York writer and diver Jim Ritteroff introduced Force Blue to Orange County environmentalists and military veterans during a fundraiser at the Ocean Institute. The national organization – founded by Ritteroff, Reyes and dive resort manager Keith Sahm – unites special operation veterans with the world of coral reef conservation. Representatives from Rancho Santa Margarita-based Professional Association of Diving Instructors gave their support and are partnering…

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