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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A group of military veterans is on a new mission.

Meet the “Force Blue” dive team, a dozen of America’s very best, all former Marines, Navy SEALs, and Special Ops guys on a mission to save the nation’s largest reef track.

“This is ground zero if we wanna protect the planet,” said Rudy Reyes.

Reyes, 47, one of the group’s founders, fought in three wars as part of the super-elite US Marine “Recon” unit.

Marines do two things, they make Marines and they win battles.

“This is real warrior stuff, a warrior takes action and that’s what we’re doing with Force Blue,” said Reyes.

Hurricane Irma wrecked the reef off Key Largo, some parts look like a coral boneyard. Among the fixes being performed by Force Blue is the delicate work of transplanting coral seedlings, creating an underwater ‘forest’ of baby coral.

But there’s also plenty of heavy lifting. For example, restoring a centuries-old 800-pound pillar coral that was ripped off its base by Irma.

“You’re talking about individuals who have lifted predator drones off the bottom of the ocean, right? So in about two minutes, they figured out. We get six airbags on this and we can get it, cement it back on and almost instantaneously the color of this reef came back,” said group co-founder Jim Rittenhoff.

For the group, there is perhaps more important restoration work going on here beyond the coral.

“I was struggling with alcohol and substance abuse and in general massive amounts of depression,” said Reyes.

Like for so many vets, adjusting to post-war life is a challenge

“For a lot of these guys, they look great, can function at high capacity, but deep down inside they’re hurting,” said Ritenhoff. “But you put these guys in the right situation, you give ’em a mission, and there’s no stopping them.”

“From where I started and where I’m at now, it’s about 180 degrees and only getting better,” said Reyes.

Admittedly, 12 guys are not going to save the reefs on their own but to them, it’s the mission that matters, a fight for something important, something bigger than themselves.


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