An Alaska National Guardsman may very well owe his life to the protective gear he was wearing when he was attacked by a bear Sunday morning at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) near Anchorage. Base officials announced on their Facebook page that the victim was involved in a land navigation exercise in a training area near the base when he came across a female brown bear and her cubs. The victim has been identified by the Associated Press as Sergeant Lucas Wendeborn.
“It appeared that he and the bear startled each other,” National Guard spokesperson Major Candis Olmstead told reporters.
Olmstead added that soldiers training in the exercise had been given a compass and map to aid them in navigating the area. The soldiers were not armed or given any ammunition, but did carry with them a helmet and other protective gear. Due to the abundance of wildlife in the surrounding area and the base’s previous history of animal attacks, soldiers were also given bear safety training as well. That training kicked in when Wendeborn found himself face-to-face with the agitated sow, and he quickly dropped down on the ground and covered his head before the bear attacked.
“Sergeant Wendeborn said this was a textbook example of a worst-case scenario,” Command Sergeant Major Alan Feaster told Reuters. “He said, ‘I remember exactly what I was told and did exactly what I was told, and it probably saved my life.’”
Wendeborn said that the bear clawed and bit him, eventually picking him up and hurling him a short distance away. The soldier suffered puncture wounds in the shoulder and chest area as well as lacerations across his back. Despite these injuries, Wendeborn was able to use his whistle and alert other soldiers to his location. JBER officials say the sergeant is now in stable condition.
The Sunday attack was the second bear mauling at the base in the past three months. In May, Sergeant Jessica Gamboa was also confronted by a sow with two cubs when she was jogging with her husband, who was stationed at the base. Gamboa received lacerations across her legs and arms as well as suffering neck fractures. Wildlife officials are currently investigating if the two incidents are linked.
File image courtesy Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson