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Story Last modified at 5:06 p.m. on Wednesday, May 4, 2011

bin Laden's death elicits mixed views
Some celebrate, while others fear retaliation from afar

BY MELISSA DEVAUGHN AND ZAZ HOLLANDER
Alaska Star

With its strong military presence, Eagle River greeted news of Osama bin Laden's death Sunday with a mix of jubilation and anxiety.

A small group of military veterans at the Eagle River VFW post Sunday night first learned about the successful U.S. mission to kill bin Laden when they got phone calls from friends.

Bartender Jessica Cortez quickly turned down the juke and turned on the TV to get the official word.

"There was a lot of 'Yes!' They were high-fiving each other, saying, 'Finally,'" Cortez said. Patrons rang the bell at the center of the bar and bought rounds for each other.

One veteran – a soldier who had deployed several times to Afghanistan – seemed particularly gratified to hear that bin Laden had been killed, Cortez said. "He said he's missed so many days with his son that he could have been there instead of being in Afghanistan looking for him."

Several families actually came down to the VFW after hearing the news, to celebrate.

Nobody got political, Cortez said. "There was nothing but just being excited. Nothing negative was said about anybody."

Even as locals celebrated, Tanya Garza, a 26-year-old mother of four married to a member of a U.S. Air Force security unit, posted this message on the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Facebook page:

"Please be in prayer for our military and our military families tonight – the chance of retaliation could be high – there are many spouses who will find tonight's news more alarming than a relief, especially those whose service members are in the Middle East tonight."

Garza on Monday said that her husband wasn't currently deployed but close family friends are, some in dangerous areas of Afghanistan.

Bin Laden's death is something to be celebrated, she said.

"It was nice to see one of the world's most wanted brought to justice. But it is most definitely bittersweet because there's going to be a retaliation."

Garza's family lives on base, where increased security measures went into effect Sunday morning – hours before word came that an elite squad of Navy SEALs had killed bin Laden at his family's high-walled compound in Pakistan.

Garza described herself as a lifelong military brat, living in Panama City as a child while her father was stationed there with the Air Force. She's been a military wife for eight years. She and her husband, a staff sergeant, have four children.

She said many military families haven't felt supported by the American public until the swelling of patriotism in the last few days.

Merry Braham, special events director at the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce, was lying in bed suffering through a cold Sunday evening when she heard the news of bin Laden's execution.

She said she watched some of the coverage on television.

"I applaud that (the military) went in and they did the job, and they did what we said we were going to do for the last 10 years," Braham said on Tuesday. "But to me, there isn't anything I'm celebrating here. ... I'm having a little problem with this celebrating of murdering somebody."

Braham said she worries, too, about the backlash.

"Talk about throwing gas on a flame," she said. "Quite honestly, the man was a fanatic, they all hated us and we knew that. Something's going to happen because you can't take radicals and expect them not to respond. They can't not respond, because then they would appear weak. That frightens me."

Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, had just attended a funeral on Sunday when later that night he heard the news.

"I am, of course, pleased that justice has come slowly but finally for Osama bin Laden," he said on Tuesday while in Eagle River. "However, having attended funeral services for soldiers and airmen for the war on terrorism, I know that victory in this war comes at a high cost for our families and community."

Gary McCutcheon, owner of the newly opened Aztecs Sports Bar and Grill in Eagle River, was at work Sunday when the news of bin Laden's death hit the big screens there. He described the reaction as "cheerful" amid the patrons there.

"There was some doubt, though," he said. "There were some conspiracy theories going on, people who wanted to see a body."

Tony Lee, a hunting guide who on Tuesday was eating lunch at Aztecs, said his first response to bin Laden's death was "Yee-ha, good."

But the overzealous celebrations being aired live in Washington, D.C., and New York City went overboard, he said.

"I think it's a little tacky," he said. "We've got a bad enough situation going on over there, and it's being aired all over TV. But the Arab world sees that. I say, 'Keep it to yourself.' "

Rachel Sperry contributed to this report.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, May 4, 2011.