A Staff Sergeant assigned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, died in a combat skills/military unique mishap 10 May 2022 on the installation, at 1345 local. Soldiers were setting up a land navigation training course when they were attacked by a bear. One Soldier sustained severe injuries during the attack, was transported to the local hospital, and pronounced dead upon arrival by the attending physician. The other Soldier sustained non-fatal injuries and was treated at the local hospital.
Since 2017, the Army has lost an average of three Soldiers a year to combat skills/military unique mishaps. This tragedy was the second combat skills/military unique fatality of FY22.
Tips for Avoiding and Surviving a Bear Attack:
Avoid an Encounter
·Practice Proper “Food” Storage - Bears have an insatiable appetite and an amazing sense of smell, and they consider anything with a scent to be "food." This can include canned goods, bottles, drinks, soaps, cosmetics, toiletries, trash, ice chests, sunscreen, bug repellant, fuel, items used for preparing or eating meals, etc. Always pack your food scraps, garbage, or toiletries in resealable bags or containers.
·Never approach, crowd, pursue, or displace bears. If a bear changes its behavior because of your presence, you are too close!
·Be Especially Cautious if You See a Female with Cubs - never place yourself between a mother and her cub, and never attempt to approach them. The chances of an attack escalate greatly if she perceives you as a danger to her cubs.
·Identify Yourself – speak calmly so the bear knows you are a human and not a prey animal. Remain still; stand your ground but slowly wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you as a human. It may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.
·Stay Calm - most bears do not want to attack you; they usually just want to be left alone. Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second. Bears may also react defensively by wooﬁng, yawning, salivating, growling, snapping their jaws, and laying their ears back. Continue to talk to the bear in low tones; this will help you stay calmer, and it won't be threatening to the bear. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal.
·Move Away Slowly - You want to give the bear a wide berth and move away slowly, keeping an eye on the bear as you go. You want to move in a sideways motion as you go. Whatever you do, DO NOT RUN. This will trigger their instinct to chase you just like a dog will if you run from them. Bears are surprisingly fast and will have no problem at all outrunning you. If the bear follows you, stop where you are, face them, and keep talking to them in a calm low tone. Also, don’t try to climb a tree to get away from a bear. They are great at climbing trees.
·Brown/Grizzly Bears: If you are attacked by a brown/grizzly bear, leave your pack on and PLAY DEAD. Lay ﬂat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over. Remain still until the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks. However, if the attack persists, fight back vigorously. Use whatever you have at hand to hit the bear in the face.
·Black Bears: If you are attacked by a black bear, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. Try to escape to a secure place such as a car or building. If escape is not possible, try to ﬁght back using any object available. Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear's face and muzzle.
If any bear attacks you in your tent, or stalks you and then attacks, do NOT play dead—ﬁght back! This kind of attack is very rare but can be serious because it often means the bear is looking for food and sees you as prey.