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Combat diver group partners with NFL, honors veterans and restores coral reefs

Specially trained military combat divers plan to score big at the Super Bowl in Tampa.

Force Blue has teamed up with the NFL for its mission called 100 yards of hope, a year-long coral reef restoration project, honoring the NFL’s 100th season and U.S. military veterans.

“It’s what they know,” said Jim Ritterhoff, the co-founder and executive director of Force Blue. “It’s what they’re wired to do is to serve something greater than themselves.”

Ritterhoff explained the idea was to take advantage of the abilities of these combat divers to serve our oceans.

“What if we could create a program that took these veteran combat divers, guys who the military had spent millions of dollars to make really amazing underwater operators?” Ritterhoff explained. “What if we could lend them as a workforce to the environmental community?”

Force Blue helps veteran and military-trained combat divers continue service in part by outplanting coral or even rescuing at-risk coral fragments after tropical systems move through.

“Everything we do is mission focused,” Ritterhoff said. “It’s not pleasure diving. It’s not just going out and sightseeing.”

Air Force combat controller Andrew Gamberzky is part of the Force Blue team.

“We’re all hard workers, I think,” Gamberzky said. “And we’ll keep going, and they love that, and there’s so much to do, and there’s so much to be done that, you know, we could dive 24 hours a day and there’d still be, we’d still need to do more.”

And there is more to be done as concerns grow over coral reefs.

“It creates these massive ecosystems, and there’s a huge chain of effects when that goes away,” Gamberzky said.

A force to be reckoned with, and Force Blue gives veterans a sense of belonging while bettering the environment.

In 2019, Force Blue teamed up with the Super Bowl in Miami to plant 100 corals in honor of the league’s 100th season. This year, they expanded the effort to 100 yards of complete coral reef restoration. The corals will come from The Florida Aquarium in Tampa and go up in the waters off Miami.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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