ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The soldier killed Tuesday by a bear in a remote corner of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson was a 30-year-old who had deployed to Afghanistan and had been stationed in Alaska for under a year.
Staff Sgt. Seth Michael Plant served with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, according to U.S. Army Alaska.
Plant died Tuesday as he and two others were preparing for upcoming training in a remote area of the base west of the Anchorage Regional Landfill. He was part of a small group in the area, authorities said, when he and another soldier came in proximity to the bear’s den.
Plant was declared dead at the base hospital. The other soldier, who was not identified, suffered minor injuries, according to Army officials.
Investigators with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game believe a brown bear sow with cubs was involved in the attack.
The bear had not been located as of Thursday afternoon, wildlife officials say.
“This appears to be a defensive attack by a female bear protecting her cubs,” Fish and Game Southcentral supervisor Cyndi Wardlow said in a statement Thursday. Fish and Game was one of several state and federal agencies that arrived on-scene Tuesday to investigate.
“Female bears are especially fierce defenders of their young and may respond aggressively if they perceive a threat to their cubs,” the agency said. “At this time, the location of the bear involved in Tuesday’s attack is unknown.”
The den, with two cubs born this winter, wasn’t far from the spot where first responders removed the soldier, the agency said. As Fish and Game investigators worked, a brown bear approached the site. Responding personnel used bear spray and the animal took off. Game cameras picked up the image of a bear returning to the den overnight and leaving with both cubs.
A bear involved in a fatal attack may be killed by Fish and Game, the agency said Thursday.
It’s not clear what kind of bear protection, if any, the soldiers had on hand.
With the exception of live-fire exercises, on-base trainings are rarely conducted with live ammunition in service weapons. At the time of the attack, Plant’s group was preparing the area for land-based navigation exercises, essentially orienteering training with a map and compass — considered an essential skillset for troops.
According to U.S. Army Alaska, Plant was originally from Saint Augustine, Florida, and enlisted in 2015, serving at bases in Georgia and North Carolina before being stationed at JBER in July 2021. Prior to enlisting he had a stint in the Army Reserve. The airborne infantryman earned numerous distinctions from the service, including for work during a combat deployment in Afghanistan.
“He always had a smile on his face, he always went above and beyond what was asked of him, and he served as an inspiration to all who had the privilege to know him. His loss is deeply felt within our organization and we offer our sincere condolences to friends and family,” Lt. Col. David J. Nelson, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, said in a statement.
An investigation into the bear attack, which happened in a rugged area of the sprawling Anchorage base used for training, is being conducted by officials from the military as well as state wildlife personnel from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.