A soldier who had served a combat deployment in Afghanistan was fatally mauled by a bear in Alaska Tuesday. Staff Sgt. Seth Michael Plant served with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and was stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The 30-year-old was prepping for land-based navigation exercises in a remote section of the base when he and another soldier neared a den that investigators with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game believe held a brown bear sow with cubs. It's unclear if the soldiers were armed or equipped with bear deterrents. The other soldier suffered minor injuries.
"From the soldier’s perspective, there was a flash of brown mass," Capt. Derek DeGraaf with the Northern Detachment of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers tells the New York Times. "They were attacked and didn’t even see it coming." As a Fish and Game rep explains, "Female bears are especially fierce defenders of their young and may respond aggressively if they perceive a threat to their cubs," per the Alaska Daily News. The bear had not been located as of Thursday afternoon, though game cameras captured images of the bear returning to the den at night and leaving with two cubs.
"Staff Sgt. Plant was an integral part of our organization," said his commander, Lt. Col. David Nelson. "He was a positive and dedicated leader who brought joy and energy to the paratroopers who served with him." Plant, a native of Saint Augustine, Florida, joined the Army in 2015 and had been stationed at JBER for 10 months. The BBC reports the base, which measures more than 64,000 acres, is the largest in the state. (Read more bear attack stories.)