JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
All the lights were out. The howling wind seemed to creep its tendril-like fingers through the window, moving the air like a ghost through the house. Meanwhile, with a tight squeeze, the boy’s fears are cast aside as a wave of comfort streams from the fur pressed against his face—all is well, Whoa Bear is here.
“He protects the house,” said Jadon Keller, 6. “Any bad guys that try to sneak in, he’ll protect me by picking them up and throwing them outside.”
Whoa Bear, lovingly nicknamed for his impressionable size, stands close to five and a half feet tall. The original bear owner, Annette Tenney, lost her son Sgt. Robert G. Tenney, June 29, 2011, Iraq, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with indirect fire, during Operation New Dawn. Sgt. Tenney’s uncle gave the bear to Annette, who later gifted it to the Survivor Outreach Services on Fort Eustis.
According to Annette, Whoa Bear was always standing by at SOS to give love, comfort, or a laugh to anyone who needed it.
“I love stuffed animals, I feel comforted by them and I have a lot of them in my house,” said Eniale Matheny. “But Whoa Bear gave me hope.”
U.S. Army Sgt. Caryn E. Nouv, Eniale’s mother, died July 27, 2013, in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, of wounds caused by an improvised explosive device and small-arms fire, serving during Operation Enduring Freedom.
The SOS made the decision after speaking with Judy Reynal, Eniale’s grandmother, to donate Whoa Bear to a 10-year-old with severe dust allergies.
“My favorite memories with the Whoa Bear are of cleaning the dust off of it,” Eniale said with a smile.
She found it extremely humorous, how putting a five-foot-tall stuffed animal in a giant bag and sucking all the air out of it with a vacuum could make the bear small enough to fit in a back pack. After removing all the dust and bringing the bear back to normal, the hugs could keep going—hope and life kept going.
After years counting on his support, Eniale was now 19 and in college, and felt that Whoa Bear was ready to bring hope to someone else.
“I knew that another child that was younger than me would love the bear and be able to care for the bear,” said Eniale. And she remembered a young boy named Jadon that she met during an SOS Thanksgiving dinner.
After some planning from her grandmother and Jackie Keller, Jadon’s mother, Whoa Bear was to make his move during a lunch outing. After the ‘chance’ meeting, Jadon was completely unaware of what was waiting in the car.
“I was like ‘wow,’” Jadon said. “I gave it a big hug and it felt very soft.”
Army Pfc. Raymond J. Faulstich Jr., Jadon’s uncle, died August 5, 2004, when he was wounded during an ambush in Najaf, Iraq, serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Faulstich continued to drive under enemy fire, getting his comrades to safety.
“Whoa Bear, I feel, has almost come full circle,” Keller said. “He gifted by an uncle who lost his nephew, then went to the Reynals and now he’s passed onto a little boy who lost his uncle.”
Presently, Jadon enjoys the love, company and hugs Whoa Bear gives without reservations, but he understands the importance of Whoa Bear’s job.
“We’ve talked about [what will happen] when he grows up,” Keller said. “If we come across another child that might need the support from Whoa Bear then we would definitely pass him on.”
And when that time comes, Whoa Bear is ready to ‘bear’ arms.