By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterJanuary 9, 2014
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Jan. 9, 2014) -- The polar vortex that has swirled around the continental U.S. has caused a few zoos to bring in their arctic animals, but it takes more than a chill wind to frighten Fort Rucker's resident white carnivore.
In many cities across America, mascots can be found that promote esprit de corps. Dothan, Ala., has its peanut statues. Louisville, Ky., has its horses, and Cherokee, N.C., has its bears. Promoting morale is one of the things that Fort Rucker's Sgt. Ted E. Bear does best, even in frigid weather conditions.
Located at the corner of Andrews and Novosel, Bear has dutifully watched over Fort Rucker for the last 53 years. Standing watch over the installation near the Daleville Gate, he observes the thousands of people passing by him every day, said J. Patrick Hughes, Aviation Branch historian.
"People have fun with that bear," he said. "He was originally designed in Panama City by Lee Koplin, but he was built here and he will stay here. He is now a Fort Rucker icon."
Bear was originally erected as an emblem of the 2nd Battle Group, 31st Infantry Regiment, also known as the Polar Bear Regiment. Construction was commissioned in 1961, by Col. Bennett L. Jackson, to commemorate the action the unit saw while attempting to keep the Trans-Siberian Railroad open during World War I, in Murmansk, Russia. It was that operation that earned the regiment the nickname "the Polar Bears," and Bennett received the nickname "Bear," said Hughes.
The regiment even incorporated the polar bear into its crest, he added.
"Smokey" was originally located next to the 46th Engineer Battalion building after the 31st Infantry Regiment was reassigned to Fort Benning, Ga., in 1966.
Over the years, Bear has donned many outfits as part of his provided care, ranging from bunny and penguin suits to flight suits. He has also sported superhero costumes and a variety of other seasonable ensembles.
Bear overshadows all of his fellow sergeants, if not by age then by dimensions. At 15 feet high, Bear weighs 2,000 pounds (mostly made of solid concrete), with his weight steadily growing with each outfit he dons.
Eventually, the responsibility of caring for Bear passed to 1st Battalion, 210th Aviation Regiment, in 1994, when the bulk of the engineer battalion relocated to Fort Polk, La., and he was then reassigned to the Warrant Officer Career College, in 1997.
"With his reassignment to the 210th, he received his new orders, rank and name -- Pfc. Ted E. Bear," said Hughes, adding that Bear received official orders.
He was promoted to sergeant Sept. 19, 2007, in an official ceremony approved by Maj. Gen. Virgil L. Packett II, then U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center and Fort Rucker commanding general, and at the time it was stated that his weight issues kept him from being promoted higher.
In 2008, Bear was moved from his original home on Ruf Avenue to his new home near the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, where he bravely and quietly watches over passing traffic.
"People would notice if he was moved or removed in a heartbeat," said the historian. "It was somewhat controversial when they moved him to his new post. Can you imagine what would happen if he was taken down permanently?
"Many Soldiers return to 'Mother Rucker,'" he added. "If Bear could not be found, it would be like losing a friend you always expect to see when you return home."
In a real sense, Bear serves as a colorful community bulletin board, and many organizations have upped the ante when it comes to decorating him -- giving him 3D accessories like banners, hats, sporting equipment and large polar bear sized packages.
It is uncommon for military installations to have a single mascot, something Hughes said made Fort Rucker stand out, or over, 15 feet exactly, others.
"Countless generations of Aviators have come through here and seen him. He has always been a very prominent figure in the community," he said. "Aviators see him and they identify with him, and I know it is usually one of the first things family's notice when they arrive here.
"He is now part of the tradition of being at Fort Rucker, even though his origins do not lie in aviation. He is part of the experience of becoming an Army aviator," he continued.
People across the area can only wonder what fashion statements Bear will reveal next and when he will be promoted to staff sergeant, because he is surely the most famous sergeant in the lower 49 states. He has been featured in local newspapers more than 10 times, and his likeness is now featured as a trophy at the Fort Rucker Arts and Crafts Center.
But people should exercise care when taking photos with Bear. Although he loves the attention, is dressed to impress, is wearing a smile and his arms are open to receive hugs, he is a 2,000 pound carnivorous infantryman, and the intersection he is by is a high traffic area.