Editor’s Note: From all of us here at Zeagle, we hope you’ll join us in honoring our veterans this Memorial Day—and every day. To mark the occasion, we spoke with a couple FORCE BLUE members to get their take on how diving helps veterans and active service members who are struggling with PTSD.
For context, FORCE BLUE is a nonprofit that recruits retired special-ops personnel (Navy SEALs/Marine Recon) to tackle unique, challenging aquatic conservation projects—predominantly coral reef restoration. In the process, FB members take on a new sense of purpose and brotherhood after they’ve fulfilled their duties to the United States.
Like it or not, freedom isn’t free. Every year, US Armed Forces work tirelessly to ensure citizens have the rights guaranteed under the constitution and can go about their lives with liberty.
But it’s the brave and committed service members—active duty and veterans—that actually make that freedom possible. That’s why, at Zeagle, we’re honored to support our military communities, not just on Memorial Day, but every day.
These brave men and women risk it all—life, limb and happiness—for the sake of their country. And many of them return from duty scarred mentally, physically and emotionally. Indeed, the scars of war can last for years—even generations.
However, both clinical and anecdotal research are beginning to recognize scuba diving as a means of treating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
How Diving Helps Veterans
Angelo Fiore, a 10-year veteran diver with the US Navy, knows a thing or two about the struggles of military diving, but also the therapeutic qualities that come post-service.
Fiore, who moonlights as the Director of Dive Operations for FORCE BLUE, has spent years welcoming veterans into the recreational phase of their diving and helping them overcome PTSD.
“Diving gives you the opportunity to stay engaged in something you enjoy,” Fiore says. “You have to repurpose yourself and retrain your thinking into believing that you’re still doing a type of mission therapy.
“You went from a military-type environment where it was always super-arduous,” he continues, “to a situation where you’re still outside in the aquatic environment sharing experiences with other individuals, but now you’re really enjoying it. We all love the ocean, and by sharing those experiences, it gives us the joy and fulfillment of being a part of something.”
Having a Purpose
FORCE BLUE cofounder James Ritterhoff agrees. And he should know. Having witnessed firsthand how scuba helps traumatized veterans deal with past trauma, he’s made it his life’s work helping vets find new purpose.
In fact, FORCE BLUE was partially founded on that notion after cofounder Rudy Reyes realized that recreational diving was having a profound positive effect on his own mental health.
As a retired USMC Recon diver, Reyes had always known diving to be something miserable, done in the dark—and never for pleasure. But after having suffered from long bouts of PTSD and depression, he found his experiences diving recreationally to be enormously therapeutic.
“A lot of veterans face a lack of purpose when they get home,” Ritterhoff says. “It’s very difficult to get these very high-speed guys and drop ‘em in a cubicle and say, ‘get on with your life.’ So, our idea was: ‘What if we could give these guys back that sense of mission and having a team?”
Learning to Relax
But on top of that, few sports or hobbies provide the utter tranquility and peace that are par for the course with recreational diving. “Where I started, and where I’m at now—it’s 180 degrees,” Reyes told CBS News of his time working and diving with FORCE BLUE, “And I’m only getting better.”
As Reyes’ experience exemplifies, military diving is not very enjoyable. But learning to take recreational respite in the sport provides a new outlet to heal for many.
“Whether long swims, long operations underwater, there were very few times where you could just sit back and enjoy the view,” Fiore recalls of his time diving in the military.
“That’s one thing I’ve taken from the military to the recreational side,” he says. “Now, diving has turned into a very therapeutic, relaxing form of meditation. You’re just sitting there, focusing on breathing and the beauty around you—it’s a whole different feeling. Just that calm sense of peace.”