Photo: Courtesy of Force Blue

By Kristina Pritchett

A national organization aiming to help veterans learn new skills used the Ocean Institute as the location for their fundraiser recently.

Force Blue, a 501(C)(3) is working to give former combat divers and Special Operations veterans a chance to learn and explore some of the most critically endangered ecosystems and adopt their training and teamwork to aid in its protection.

“We take men and women that are trained to destroy underwater and train them how to preserve it and through that process, how to restore themselves,” said Jim Ritterhoff, executive director and co-founder of Force Blue.

Ritterhoff said the biggest hurdle for veterans once their home is giving them a mission.

“One of the real antidotes we believe in is getting them back in a team setting and giving them positive reassurance,” Ritterhoff said.

The event at the Ocean Institute allowed the nonprofit to not only educate people in attendance about their goals, but to raise money.

“First, it was a celebration for the fact that we have six divers ready to go,” Ritterhoff said.

The divers will be heading to the Grand Cayman Islands in April for their first deployment.

“We’re fundraising so that we can have the funds in place to tell their stories,” Ritterhoff said. “We want to document what we do, and be able to share that story.”

Ritterhoff said the event went very well and could see the organization returning to the Institute.

“It’s a great venue because where it is in Dana Point, it has great proximity to the marine base and there’s a good and strong veteran presence,” Ritterhoff said. “The Ocean Institute is training and educating, and that’s what we’re doing.”

The organization’s office is based out of New York, with their home base out of the Grand Cayman Island, but they’ve been doing events all over the country and plan to continue, maybe even in Dana Point again.

“I think we did extraordinarily well,” Ritterhoff said about the event. “I was cautiously optimistic about donations and we were blown away by the stuff we were able to compile.”

For more information about Force Blue, visit www.forceblueteam.org.

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