BANGOR, Maine — The death of Osama bin Laden was a relief to many military officials — including Maj. Gen. John W. Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard — but it doesn’t alter the mission the U.S. has in Afghanistan, he said Monday.
Or stop the troops that are heading through Bangor International Airport. Two planes loaded with soldiers landed at BIA just after noon Monday carrying U.S. troops heading home from the war zone and others heading into battle.
“This is clearly not the end of operations in Afghanistan,” observed Libby. “Eliminating the leader doesn’t mean the end.”
Hours before bin Laden’s death was made public, military officials in Maine were informed Sunday morning that the threat level had changed and they were ordered “to increase the force protection at our armories and bases in Maine,” Libby said.
When he asked why, Libby was told the order came from U.S. Central Command, which includes Afghanistan.
“I made an assumption — with all the cloak and dagger — that it might be a high-value target,” he said.
Libby didn’t find out how big the target was until he was driving to work Monday morning and heard on the radio that bin Laden was dead.
“My first reaction was relief at some level,” he said. “This chapter, the story of Osama bin Laden, is over. My second thought was that this really doesn’t change anything.”
While on stopovers Monday afternoon at BIA en route to their final destinations, service members from Oklahoma and Illinois also recounted how they learned the al-Qaida leader was dead.
Master Sgt. John McMurphy, an Oklahoma airman from the 552nd Air Control Wing, said he was packing to head over to the United Arab Emirates when he heard the news.
“I finished packing,” the 23-year Air Force member said. “We know it’s business as usual.”
The Tinker Air Force Base men and women were given orders in mid-March to deploy in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the code name for U.S. operations in Libya.
“Hopefully, it’s the beginning of the end” in Afghanistan, McMurphy said of bin Laden’s death.
“We hope,” Master Sgt. Brent Brumley added.
“It’s like dominoes,” McMurphy said. “You knock one down, and hopefully they keep going.”
Sgt. 1st Class Michael McClintock, a member of the Illinois Army National Guard back on U.S. soil after spending 10 months in Sinai, Egypt, recalled that “as soon as we landed in Ireland, they said, ‘You’re going to see it on TV anyway. Bin Laden has been killed.’ Everybody kind of hooped and hollered.”
The northwest Illinois citizen soldiers actually rocked the plane with their excitement, said Spc. Ericka Ray, who served in Egypt along with her father, Sgt. 1st Class Greg Jones, and brother, Sgt. Mike Neer.
“Everybody was cheering,” she said. “I felt relief. There is no more trying to find him.”
Ray said she was in a sixth-grade classroom when she heard the Twin Towers had been attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. That experience, and living in a military family, prompted her to enlist, she said.
“It’s definitely a morale booster for everybody who has been through Afghanistan,” McClintock said.
After greeting the two planes Monday, members of the Maine Troop Greeters — one of them wearing a pin with bin Laden’s image — also reacted to the news of the terror leader’s death.
“At one time it said, ‘Wanted dead or alive,’” troop greeter Charles “Chuck” Knowlen of Eddington, a retired Army veteran, said of his pin. “Now it says, ‘Gotcha.’”
Charles “Dusty” Fisher, a troop greeter who served five years in the Maine Legislature, said he read about bin Laden’s death in the Bangor Daily News early Monday.
“What a great way to start my day,” he said. “I opened my paper up and my heart started pounding.”
Libby said the third and final thought he had after hearing the news Monday — and the one that lingered — was about the eight Maine soldiers and the 40 others with connections to Maine who have made the ultimate sacrifice since 9/11 — and the others still scheduled to head overseas.
Two Bangor units, the 126th Aviation Medevac unit and the 142nd Aviation detachment, have both recently been told they will be deploying, Libby noted.