Alika, Odyssey of a Navy Dolphin – Synopsis –

The paths of a young Wyoming cowboy—Brent Harris, a delightful green-eyed southern girl—Katie Donavan, and a baby Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin—Alika, intertwine in this heartwarming story—a tale of loyalty, gallantry, hope and love. 

When Katie discovers a beached baby dolphin near Turkey Point, Florida, State Rangers rush to the scene and surmise that the baby dolphin’s mother had been killed by a shark.  They assist in the rescue and transport the little dolphin to Gulf World’s mammal rehabilitation facility.   The assessment is not good—the psychological trauma alone is significant.  The little dolphin will require long term care and therapy.  The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP), whose record for high survival and rehabilitation rates are world renown, offers their assistance.  

NMMP transports the little dolphin to the rehab center at Pt. Loma, California.  Despite the distress the little dolphin has suffered, after months of rehabilitation he recovers and becomes a favorite of the veterinarians, trainers, and marine bio-technicians at the facility.  He is given the name Alika meaning warrior in Hawaiian.   When he is of age, Alika completes training and certification as an Mk-7 dolphin—a mine hunter—and is transferred to Foxtrot Platoon under NMMP.

            Brent Harris gives up a glittering career as a Special Boat Team Combat Crewman (SWCC) to become a marine mammal trainer and handler.  Growing up on a horse ranch in western Wyoming had allowed him to cultivate a very special talent—a gift really—that of being an extraordinary horse trainer.   Brent is assigned as Alika’s handler and, based on Brent’s remarkable capacity to understand and communicate with animals, a strong bond—a unique trust—is quickly cast.

Katie Donavan, a coed at the University of Florida, coordinates a visit to Foxtrot Platoon for a group of student Marine Biologists.  When the Command Master Chief of Foxtrot Platoon realizes that Katie is the little girl who, six years earlier, helped save Alika’s life, he arranges a reunion with Alika.  The reunion is a joyous event for all, but for Katie it was one of the most moving experiences in her life.

Brent, who had coordinated the visit with Katie, fell head-over-heels in love at first sight with the girl with the applesauce green eyes.  Katie was certainly attracted to the cowboy-turned-sailor, but she is, by far, more pragmatic.  They live on opposite sides of the U.S. and she had another year of college to complete before she could take anything, besides school, seriously. 

After a short visit back to San Diego to see Brent and Alika, Katie’s interest flourishes into cautious infatuation.   But world events have a way of changing people’s dreams—early in 2003 things in the Mideast heat up.   

On March 23rd, 2003, following persistent provocative actions against the US led coalition and genocide acts against Saddam Hussain’s own people, the UN ordered the commencement of military operations against Iraq—Operation Iraqi Freedom—the Second Gulf War (OIF)—begins.

Foxtrot Platoon, owing to their special capabilities to clear mines from harbors and waterways, is one of the first units in theater.  It is their mission to make Umm Qasr, the only deep water port in Iraq, safe for coalition supply and war ships to unload war material and humanitarian supplies. 

On the third day of the operation, while working with Alika, Brent is attacked by a Bull Shark.  Alika exacted full retribution on the shark, and then tows Brent back to a control boat saving his life. After several surgeries to repair the damage done to his lower left leg, Brent is flown back to San Diego.  He is joined by Alika when the platoon returns from theater.  Even with his dolphin though, depression and despair set in as the realities crystalize. 

Brent had a promising future.  He had gained so many things—some through hard work, diligence, and good decisions—but most through the grace of God.  He had completed a mystical calling, which, five-years earlier had beckoned him.   But now, it seemed, one by one, his life’s greatest treasures were being systematically stripped from him.

He’ll recover from his physical wounds, but the real devastation is the reality that he will be discharged from the Navy, lose his job, his dolphin, and likely, his one true love—Katie. 

Behind the scenes Foxtrot Platoon leadership works vigorously to set things right.  When Katie is notified of Brent’s injuries; she drops everything to join him. 

On a brilliant, cerulean blue-sky Katie appears as if in a dream.  Katie comes to Brent with hope, salvation, and a promise. 

For the first time Alika testifies to the unwavering bond of loyalty and trust dolphins share with their handlers.  Alika is a must read for those kind souls who thrive on animal stories or who are allured to the majestic and mysterious mammals who live in the sea and befriend man.