Alaska Army National Guard authorities have identified a Guardsman who was mauled by a brown bear sow on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Sunday, suffering several cuts and bites to his torso.
In a Monday statement, Alaska National Guard spokesperson Maj. Candis Olmstead says the victim is one of several junior enlisted soldiers participating in training during a three-week Warrior Leadership Course.
“Sgt. Lucas Wendeborn, 26, is assigned to the 1-297th Cavalry, an Army National Guard Detachment in Valdez, where Wendeborn was born and still resides,” Olmstead wrote.
According to Olmstead, Wendeborn was on a timed land navigation exercise, in which soldiers use only maps and compasses “as they navigate alone to various hidden locations throughout the course.” Just before the exercise, the soldiers had received a briefing on what to do in the event of a bear attack -- advice Wendeborn immediately employed when a sow stepped out of the brush yards away from him.
“They made eye contact and he immediately adapted to what he had been taught to do,” Olmstead wrote. “He dropped to the ground and remained still. He was swiftly approached by the sow, which picked him up by the hip and tossed him. He was bitten and swatted at before she retreated.”
After the mauling, Wendeborn blew a safety whistle to summon help as he walked to a nearby road. He was quickly medevaced by an ambulance on hand for the exercise to the base hospital, where he remains in stable condition. His injuries include puncture wounds to his left shoulder blade and right rib case, as well as cuts to his left shoulder, back and chest.
Olmstead says soldiers on the exercise don’t carry a weapon or bear spray, and that Wendeborn’s only equipment besides the map, compass and test paperwork was a helmet and safety vest. She says Wendeborn took the actions he did because “he knew that that was the best way to increase his chances for surviving the attack.”
“He handled the situation exactly how he was supposed to, and we we're very happy about that,” Olmstead said.
In a bedside video sent to Channel 2 by Wendeborn's mother, Joanne Ray, the soldier says both he and the bear acted fast after seeing each other.
"We spooked each other, and as soon as I saw it I yelled 'Bear!' and dropped to the fetal position, and by the time I hit the ground the bear had already picked me up and thrown me and swatted me a couple of times," Wendeborn said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Feaster, the commandant of the 207th Multi-functional Training Regiment which manages the Warrior Leadership Course, had high praise for Wendeborn’s response.
“Sgt. Wendeborn said this was a textbook example of a worst-case scenario,” Feaster said in the Guard statement. “He said, ‘I remember exactly what I was told and I did exactly what I was told, and it probably saved my life.’”
In the video, Wendeborn laughs as he considers the overall outcome of the attack.
"I've had better days," Wendeborn said. "I got my ass chewed out by a bear, but I'm doing OK now."
Channel 2’s Blake Essig and Mike Ross contributed information to this story.