Operation: Lion Hunter
By Army Maj. Jon Powers
JTF Guantanamo Public Affairs
Joint Task Force Guantanamo Troopers were among the hunters. Lionfish, which are highly disruptive to the reef ecosystem, were the hunted. On Jan. 21, teams of divers competed to catch the largest, smallest, and most fish in support of the Seabee Ball Committee’s Lionfish Hunt fundraiser.
The hunt, which concluded with awards and a fish fry, had the double purpose of eliminating an environmental hazard. The lionfish is classified as an invasive species which has already done significant damage in the Caribbean Sea.
There are events in your life which so closely resemble a movie or story, your mind cannot help but overlay the cooler fiction over top of reality. The Lionfish Hunt fundraiser for the Seabees’ Ball was just that. Cruising around the coral heads searching for these “alien” fish reminded me of the great movie “Aliens”: hearing Cpl. Hudson whine in my head “It’s a bug hunt, sir!” made the whole day ten times as fun. It was a great event to start with, but now it is a memory worthy of its own story...
Mission Log Twenty One January point Two:
We met at o-dark-thirty for the mission brief. Our contact, Lt. Jg. Andrew Maughn, informed us that an alien species had established a foothold on the fringe of our territory. The aliens earned the name Lionfish for their ferocity. The poisonous spines and frilly bits all over somehow wasn’t accounted for in their name. Since arriving from territories unknown, they quickly took over the reef. Maughn was seeking volunteers for a black-op code named Seabees’ Ball. In the assassin’s lingo, it was “wet work” and not for the squeamish or easily car-sick.
The assembled team came from the disavowed unit known only by its code name - Mindbender. Veteran Commander Reese was the leader for the mission.
Just back from the urban warfare school in Camden, N.J. was Grant. Just Grant. He only needed one name and his classification was beyond standard rank. His specialty was hand-to-alien spear combat.
As for me, I had made it through a grueling pull a name out of a hat process. The skills necessary to be considered were just as demanding. Only warriors in the military specialty of “guys who are mostly expendable but still OK to hang around with in case they don’t get captured or something list” were included. And I was damn proud of it.
Our contact drew us in close. Maughn informed us the alien invaders had no natural predators in this sector, and that they were proliferating by subjugating the local species and using them as a food source.
Petty Officer 1st Class Keyara Thompson of the MSST’s admin section is one of the volunteers. She said she enjoyed helping because for is a cause which needs to be done and she enjoys helping out.
Most of the Outer Zone was still a mystery: deep, dark and totally inhospitable to human forms. Those who had been there and survived called it the “Blue” mainly because… it was a mysterious blue.
“If you are going into the outer zone then you have to sign the waiver,” Maughn said. “The government can’t be held responsible if, you know…” his voice trailed off as he absently gazed over the bay.
“You have until 1600 to report back,” he said. “Good luck,” he added, offering a hand shake. Grant had heard enough.
“All right, sweethearts, we’re a team and there’s nothin’ to worry about. We come here, and we gonna conquer, and we gonna kick some, is that understood? That’s what we gonna do, sweethearts, we are going to go and get some. All right, people, on the ready line!” Grant shouted.
“OK, tactical convoy on Route Sherman, to Zone Windmill,” Reese barked. Her visage hardened into the steely demeanor of a warrior who had seen carnage in the Blue. “Keep it quiet, I don’t need the Lionfish scouts to know we’re coming.”
“So I am to collect strategic intelligence and document the mission for presentation to Fleet HQ for analysis, Ma’am?” I asked. I had never been a part of a more complex operation, and needed clarification.
“Yes, Powers, take pictures, bring them back and don’t get captured,” Reese explained. “You wouldn’t like what happens to people who get captured by Lionfish,” she said. Her expression changed to show that it was really, really awful. Like Nyquil aftertaste awful.
“Fifteen minutes to DCS and mission prep!” Grant shouted. “Secure that hatch!” It had been nearly 45 minutes since he had last killed something and he was getting cranky.
The next thing I knew we were throwing gear on our backs like a kid unwrapping Christmas presents, wait not like that at all, opposite that but the same. Anyway, it was crazy.
“Go, go, go, go!” Reese got the group focused and running for the surf.
I ran for all I was worth, tripped on a shell, fell down, rolled over a couple times, got back up, ran slightly sideways and then straight in the heart of danger. The Blue met me with a cold embrace.
Reese signled to form up and follow. For 20 minutes we stealthily tracked our azimuth on the air-sea border.
“Grant, have we reached the drop zone?” the commander asked.
“We’re in the pipe five by five, I can the see the landing area but there should be lights…” his sentence cut short by instinct. Something was wrong.
“Ma’am, scanners will be useless out here,” I noted just trying to be helpful.
“Good thing we’re all equipped with Mark II ocular target acquisition ports.” Reese said, finishing her pre-descent checks with practiced efficiency.
“The Mark-o what?”
“Ocular…oh, nevermind! Eyes, Powers, just look for the darn fish!”
The mission itself was a blur. Heroism and violence, stealth and agility wove together in a tapestry of awesomeness. I followed the patrol through the murky domain. Recording what may have been the lasting image of these professionals. I would see Grant fly nap-o-the-coral with his weapon set to kill. Sometimes he would fade out of view; all I could hear were the sounds of metal on rock in a violent clash between hunter and hunted. Commander Reese took the tactic of outflanking the Lionfish outposts, disappearing into the haze only to return with yet another alien for the roll. On three separate sorties the team would emerge from the Blue, restock our life support systems, fuel up on highly technical drinks with silly fruity names and return into heart of darkness. Finally exhausted, the team stood to account for the day’s work.
“Wrap it up,” Reese declared. “No warrior can do more today.”
“We are all in pretty strung out shape,” Grant concluded. “Stay frosty and sharp. Because if just one of those things gets up here, all this we care so much about, we can kiss it all goodbye.”
“Yeah we sent them crawling back to someplace else,” I added.
“Lionfish can’t crawl, Powers.” Reese said patiently.
“Then I guess they learned a real lesson today, the lesson of humiliating Lionfish crawling.”
But I knew in my heart that this was not the last time I would have to summon the courage and venture into the Blue to battle those aliens. I can only hope there will always be another Seabees’ Ball and an excuse to hunt lionfish.