Restoring Marine Habitats and Veterans' Health with FORCE BLUE
On January 27th, 2020, FORCE BLUE joined forces with American military veteran divers alongside scientists from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to restore a football field-length stretch of coral reef off the coast of Key Biscayne in Florida. The video documenting the project, aptly titled "100 Yards of Hope," initially stemmed from a partnership effort with the NFL Green, Verizon, and aforementioned scientific partners—to revitalize Florida's coral reefs in advance of Super Bowl LIV hosted by the state.
"SEALs and scientists fighting the same fight. It is that collaboration and commitment we hope will inspire others to pitch in and protect this national treasure," said Jim Ritterhoff, FORCE BLUE's Executive Director and Co-Founder. Today, FORCE BLUE is the only nonprofit organization in the world that retrains and redeploys former Special Operations veterans and military-trained combat divers to assist in marine conservation efforts.
The organization's origins date back to 2015 when co-founders Jim Ritteroff, Rudy Reyes, and Keith Sahm joined on a mission to unite veterans and marine conservationists for the betterment of both. Today, the nonprofit is the only organization providing "mission therapy" to aid former combat divers like Reyes, who suffered from depression and PTS after serving several tours in Iraq and overseas.
Since its inception, the nonprofit has retrained and retooled over a hundred elite, highly-skilled operators, paired them with the nation's top marine scientists and preservationists, and deployed them to service dozens of marine habitats globally. Recently, the organization launched an Ocean Conservation School for Gold Star families to train them in diving and marine biology.
Fortress Managing Director David Moson proudly supports FORCE BLUE, and currently serves on the organization's financial board. An avid diver, Moson knows firsthand FORCE BLUE's impact, having contributed to the team's restoration efforts, diving alongside the co-founders at the 100 Yards of Hope site.
"I am very proud to support FORCE BLUE, "said Moson. "As the son of a US Navy officer, it's a privilege to contribute to an organization making the lives of veterans and our planet better, together."
A Spotlight on Fortress Veterans: Andrew Bartholomew
When Fortress Director Andrew Bartholomew was a freshman in high school, the news was filled with coverage of the US Marine-led assault to liberate the Iraqi city of Fallujah. Images of determined, exhausted and often bloodied marines cemented a ‘call to service’ that Andrew had felt since childhood. Andrew attended summer school sessions and completed on-line courses so he could graduate early and pursue his dream. He enlisted in the USMC in 2007 at the age of 18, leaving home in early 2008 and completing basic training later that Spring before going on to complete three combat tours as a Marine Corps Infantryman.
In 2011, while deployed with the USMC’s 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, Andrew was encouraged by his unit’s Gunnery Sergeant to look into programs for veterans at Columbia University. “You don’t question a Gunny,” said Andrew years later. “The truth of it is, the interest he took in me and the confidence he had in me changed my life profoundly.”
Andrew applied to Columbia’s School of General Studies, then voluntarily extended his contract by half a year and transferred to the next deploying infantry unit for one final combat tour. He received his acceptance letter on April 13th, 2012, while deployed again to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.
In 2015, Andrew completed a summer internship with Fortress, and in May 2016, he received his degree in Political Science, with an eye toward pursuing a career in finance on Wall Street. After working as an analyst in Evercore’s mergers and acquisitions advisory group, Andrew rejoined Fortress as an analyst and serves today as a Director in the Credit Funds business, focused on high-yield commercial real estate credit investing.
“As the son of a US Navy officer, I am very proud of all the ways Fortress supports the military community,” said Managing Director David Moson, who leads the investment team Andrew joined at Fortress. “As a manager of people in an intensely competitive business, I also recognize that personal attributes developed in the military—integrity, team focus, discipline, determination—are what you want most on your team. Andrew is a great example of how the military instills traits that drive success in the business world.”
Creating a Leading Center for the Education of Veterans and Active Duty Service Members at California State University—San Marcos
California State University–San Marcos has established itself as a leader in providing educational opportunities and support to the military community. Today, CSUSM is home to nearly 500 student veterans—the highest percentage per capita of any California State University campus—and serves close to 2,000 military-connected students, representing 12% of the school’s total campus population.
The University’s extensive initiatives focused on the needs of veterans, active duty service members and their families, include “Veterans to Energy Careers” (VTEC), which helps student veterans translate their military experience into sustainable energy careers. CSUSM’s veterans’ programs and initiatives are overseen by a dedicated Veterans’ Services team, comprising 100% military-connected faculty and staff.
The family of Fortress Managing Partner Josh Pack (CSUSM ’97, B.A. Economics) supports CSUSM’s veterans’ programs on multiple fronts, including sponsorship of scholarships, support of a dedicated on-campus center for veterans and active service members, and the establishment of programs specifically designed for the military community. In 2016, the Packs established the “Lt. Colonel A.J. Pack Veterans Scholarship” in honor of Josh’s father,
who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 22 years.
Scholarship recipient James Kloss postponed an undergraduate education to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2012 to 2018, finishing his service as a Platoon Sergeant with the 1st Light Armored Battalion. Today, James balances his academic course-load at CSUSM with the responsibilities of serving as Chief Investment Officer of the University’s student-run investment fund, the Cougar Fund, which provides students with real world/real money experience in portfolio modeling, risk management and security analysis. Seeded with $200,000 from the CSUSM Foundation Board and the Dean’s Office of the College of Business Administration in the fall of 2019, the Fund has grown to over $260,000 (through May 2021).
“As the son of a long-serving Marine officer, the military has always been a central part of my life,” said Fortress Managing Partner Josh Pack. “So it is enormously gratifying for me and my family to recognize and support those seeking to advance their career in service or to transition to civilian careers. James, and his many peers in the CSUMS veterans’ community, have earned not just our thanks, but our commitment to support their dreams.”
Marking Over a Decade of Support for the Navy SEAL Foundation
Since the attacks of 9/11, the demands placed on the Navy Special Warfare community have reached unprecedented heights, as operators have been tasked with executing some of the highest risk, ‘no fail’ military operations in recent history. The Navy SEAL Foundation has provided ongoing support for these elite service members and their families, funding more than $100 million in programmatic assistance and standing at the forefront of crucial care and support for this unique community (www.navysealfoundation.org).
Fortress and its employees have stood behind the Foundation’s efforts for over a decade, and the company was named the first corporate recipient of the Foundation’s Patriot Award in 2011, recognizing Fortress’ commitment to the military community as both an employer and benefactor.
“I don’t think we can adequately thank individuals who routinely take on hardship and sacrifice that few of us can begin to comprehend,” said Gordon Runté, Fortress Managing Director and a member of the Host Committee for the Foundation’s New York Gala, one of the nation’s largest military fundraising events. “The SEAL teams have been our nation’s ‘point of the spear’ for over two decades of sustained conflict, and the operators I’ve had the privilege of meeting wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a sincere privilege for Fortress to support such an extraordinary group of individuals.”
A note to Fortress from Vice Admiral (SEAL) Sean Pybus, USN (ret.), Chairman of the Navy SEAL Foundation