Land Rover has always been known for their gorgeous cars dominating rugged terrain. Now, they're looking to make an impact beyond the highways: in marine and coastal conservation. The company is currently sponsoring a "Defender Above & Beyond Service Awards" for nonprofits to compete for a fully-customized Defender to help their organization go "Above & Beyond." Five nonprofits remain in the "Marine and Coastal Conservation" category, and only one is veteran-owned and operated: FORCE BLUE.
"Over the past year, there have been incredible displays of bravery and resilience," Land Rover stated on their website. "As defenders and helpers in your own right, you have been pushed to your limits—only to discover how truly capable you are. We are inspired by your commitment to serving others. And we want to support you.
"For seven decades, Land Rover has been creating hard-working vehicles that are known worldwide for taking service workers on missions to help others. Now we are awarding seven customized Defender models to seven U.S. nonprofits that go Above & Beyond for their communities every day.
"We know that great things happen when a highly capable vehicle is driven by highly capable people." FORCE BLUE is certainly run by capable people -- Jim Ritterhoff and Rudy Reyes.
According to their website, the idea for FORCE BLUE grew out of a dive trip co-founders Ritterhoff and Reyes took to the Cayman Islands in Summer 2015 to meet up with their friend, Keith Sahm, General Manager of Sunset House, the oldest continuously operated dive resort in the Caribbean.
For Ritterhoff and Sahm, experienced recreational divers who’d been reef diving for decades, this was just another week in paradise. But for Reyes, a former Recon Marine who had struggled with PTS and depression since returning home from multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the experience was nothing short of life changing.
“Here’s this trained combat diver,” Ritterhoff remembers. “One of the best, most highly skilled individuals you’ll ever encounter underwater. Yet he’s never seen a fish.”
For Reyes, like most SOF veterans, diving had never been about exploration or enjoyment. To him diving meant hauling 200 lbs. of gear underwater to destroy some potentially dangerous target in the dead of night. What Cayman offered was transformative.
Reyes immediately proposed scheduling another trip so that he could bring down more of his Recon brothers to experience what he just had. But after a few hours of discussion, the three men hatched a different plan. One that would include combat divers from all branches of service, along with marine scientists, conservationists and journalists.
“We saw it as the ultimate win-win,” says Sahm. “An opportunity to do some good, not only for our veterans, but for the planet as well.”
“By starting a program that isn’t just about helping veterans or just about helping the marine environment, but about helping both, we’re really uniting two worlds.” Says Ritterhoff. Hopefully, FORCE BLUE will encourage each to look at the other with a bit more empathy and understanding.”
Help FORCE BLUE continue to go Above & Beyond by voting once a day, every day until May 3, here.