ANCHORAGE — An Alaska Army National Guard soldier was wearing a combat helmet and other protective gear when he was attacked by a bear while participating in a training exercise at a military base, officials said Monday.
Sgt. Lucas Wendeborn of Valdez is being treated for puncture wounds and lacerations after the mauling Sunday at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The female brown bear was defending her two young cubs, base officials said.
Wendeborn’s injuries are not life-threatening, National Guard spokeswoman Maj. Candis Olmstead said. Wendeborn, 26, was not armed and had no ammunition. But he was well-shielded by the helmet, load-bearing equipment and a reflective safety vest with ammunition patches.
“The gear that was over him, it probably had some impact on protecting him some,” Olmstead said.
Wendeborn was participating in a navigation exercise that involves giving soldiers compasses and maps and timing them as they make their way alone to hidden locations on a course.
In thick woods, Wendeborn moved around a tree and mere yards away the bear popped out of the brush. The two made eye contact.
“It appeared that he and the bear startled each other,” Olmstead said.
The soldier immediately thought of a bear-safety briefing he had earlier that day and dropped to the ground. The bear attacked, picking him up by the hip and throwing him. The bear swatted and bit at him a few times before leaving him alone after about 30 seconds.
The soldier waited between 15 and 30 seconds and then blew a safety whistle, alerting medics on the course, Olmstead said. The medics began to stabilize Wendeborn, who sustained puncture wounds in areas including under his left shoulder blade and right rib cage, as well as lacerations to his back, chest and left shoulder. He was transported to the base hospital.
The area surrounding the attack will be closed for one week, base spokesman Jim Hart said.
It was the second mauling at the base in two months.
Jessica Gamboa was badly mauled May 18 as she jogged on a trail and encountered a bear and her two cubs.
Gamboa, the wife of a soldier stationed at the base, has said she didn’t scream or fight during the attack, and the bear left her bleeding in an embankment. She sustained cuts to her neck, arms and legs, a torn ear and neck fractures.
She was rushed to a hospital by a soldier who was driving by when he saw her walking down the road holding both hands to her bleeding neck.
There’s no way of telling if the same bear was involved in Sunday’s attack, said Jessy Coltrane, a wildlife biologist with Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which also responded to the latest encounter. Coltrane said genetic material from the bear in the May attack was not available.
There are no plans to look for the bear in Sunday’s attack, said Coltrane, who noted that a search of the area failed to immediately find it. There are no immediate public safety concerns, she said.
Besides, the attack occurred in the middle of the woods in thick brush without a pattern of recreational use. And it was a defensive attack by a sow with two cubs.
“It was basically a bear being a bear,” Coltrane said.
Wendeborn is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 297th Brigade Reconnaissance and Surveillance Squadron (Cavalry), an Army National Guard detachment in Valdez.