LJ, bear on a mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Julie Briden-Garcia and Capt. Dave Edwards
  • 301st Fighter Wing
Bear takes on adventurous mission for support, morale

This deployment came as a surprise to one Air Force Reserve major -- having about two weeks notice -- after being informed he was a last minute substitution. "When I told my wife the news, the response was exactly as expected -- 100 percent support." They agreed telling the children might return mixed reactions, but they did need time to digest it, not wait until he was walking out the door. 

"My son, Robert, expressed concern for our safety, but took a logical approach and trusted that my squadron buddies and I would be safe." On the other hand, his daughter, Lauren, was afraid. 

Lauren has a favorite stuffed animal she received from her Nana years ago. She named it "Lars". The bear goes everywhere with her; his fur coat shows their strong relationship. In school last year, her class had a "bring a teddy bear to school" day. When Lauren showed up with Lars, her teacher took one look at Lars, picked it up in front of the class and said, "This bear is loved." The rest of our family has accepted Lars as a regular family member as he eats dinner with us every night and sits on the couch with us to watch TV. 

Last Christmas, Lauren gave her father a gift she had bought with her own money. She presented him with a stuffed animal, smaller than Lars, but similar in appearance. She also hand sewed a tiny heart shaped pillow that matched the bear's clothes. The miniature bear's name is Lars Junior, call sign "LJ." 

"My daughter is physically tough, vowing to be able to do anything her big brother can, but she remains sensitive and expressive of her feelings." 

Lauren had images of the war in Iraq straight from the front page of a popular news magazine. Not that this magazine image isn't true, but it's just a different picture than the 457th Fighter Squadron's job here at Balad Air Base. She was extremely scared for the entire squadron's safety. 

The major assured her everything there was very well planned and secure on base -- a well defined and defended perimeter. He could, deep down, tell she didn't accept that answer, but on the outside she agreed to support him and helped her father pack. 

"As we loaded my required items into my A-3 bag together, she picked up the bear she had given me and said, 'Maybe you should take LJ?' He sat with his head poking out of my A-3 bag until we departed for the base the next morning." 

Since being in Balad, LJ is a regular SPAD. He usually hangs out on Maj. Dave's desk, but occasionally will sit outside under the shade of the camouflaged patio cover. One day, LJ took a tour of an F-16 where we got some photos sitting in various places on the jet. 

Since arriving at Balad, LJ has done a 'beary' good job earning recognition for helping out the troops' morale while in Southwest Asia supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

"I've sent home several pictures of LJ in action and hope that Lauren feels some comfort in knowing the LJ and I are having a good time."

Editor's Note: Maj. Edwards and LJ are now back safe and sound in Fort Worth, Texas. LJ made a brief appearance at the airport as Lauren and her family greeted her returning warrior, dad, before returning home to a quite lifestyle as a bear with a story to tell.
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