Grand County military families react to bin Laden’s death
May 4, 2011
Sept. 11, 2001, is a day most adults remember well. Almost anyone over the age of 20 can tell you exactly where they were, exactly what they were doing when the planes struck the towers in New York.
It was also the first day that many Americans had heard the name Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaida and mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
In the world’s Axis of Evil, bin Laden became the center pin. A decade-long manhunt across two countries ended Sunday, May 1, 2011, when a team of highly trained U.S. Navy SEALs raided a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing bin Laden, his son Khaled, two brothers who were harboring him and one of his wives.
Here in Grand County, veterans and parents of active duty military had mixed emotions about bin Laden’s death.
“We cut off the head, but we haven’t killed the organization,” said retired Air Force Col. Alan Sommerfeld of Fraser. “Behind him are other deputies just as radical. We shouldn’t feel like we are significantly safer.”
Sommerfeld was a senior military reservist working in the legal (JAG) offices at NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and the U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs when the planes struck the towers in 2001.
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“I was privileged enough to be part of the battle staff on 9/11,” he said. He was sealed inside Cheyenne Mountain, managing airplanes and scrambling fighters.
Ironically, he had turned in his retirement paperwork on Sept. 4, 2001. On Sept. 12, he called his commanding officer and told him to shred it. He served for two more years before retiring.
“They’ve eliminated the planner and financier, so that is a success, but it does not eliminate the threat,” Sommerfeld said. “There’s a huge organization out there that wants to hurt the United States. We live in a different time than before (9/11).”
Don Dailey of Hot Sulphur Springs retired in 1995 as a sergeant first class with the 1st Cavalry Division after serving as a quartermaster in the Gulf War.
“In 2001, I was working at Rocky Mountain National Park,” Dailey recalls. “I was sweeping the breezeway when one of the ladies from the desk came out and told us that a plane had hit the tower. As soon as she told me, I said: ‘It’s bin Laden.'”
Not one to shed a tear, Dailey said the tragedy that day weighed heavily on his mind as he drove up the road on another task.
“I had to pull over,” he recalls.
He feels vindication knowing bin Laden has been killed, he said: “I think it’s great. He killed so many people. What comes around goes around.”
Dailey thinks the troops overseas are probably safer now that bin Laden is dead.
“I think this threw a wrench into the machine. I hope their group falls apart. But, he’ll probably be replaced.”
Dailey also said he believes U.S. perseverance is what caught bin Laden: “All that hard work paid off,” he said, adding: “I think our nation owes a big debt of gratitude to everyone who is serving on active duty and their families.”
For local mothers of active military personnel, bin Laden’s death doesn’t bring much relief.
“I wish I could say that it made me feel better that he’s dead,” said Maura Ransom of Hot Sulphur Springs, who has one son, Cody, just completing basic training and another son, Donald, who is in the reserves. “But, I think there’s thousands more right behind him ready to take his place. I think there’ll be repercussions. I’m glad he’s dead, but I don’t think it will do much for the safety of our nation or our troops.”
While Maura has experience sending a son off to war, “I am more nervous these last few days for the son who is graduating from boot camp, more nervous than I was before.”
Ann Williams of Granby also has experience sending a child to war. Her son Chris, a specialist with the Airborne cavalry at Fort Richardson in Alaska, did a year-long tour in Afghanistan beginning in February 2009, and he’ll ship out for a second tour next year.
As to whether bin Laden’s death gives her any peace of mind, she said: “I have mixed emotions … I get upset personally at any death. Being a Christian, I feel that people like Osama and those who follow him are going to have to stand before God and take the consequences. But, I also know that the Bible calls on us to rid the world of people like that.”
She added, “I don’t think it’s going to solve the problem of terrorists.”
Perhaps in another decade people will sit around the office water cooler remembering where they were that moment they learned Osama bin Laden had been killed.
Is it too much to hope, thinking about that future water cooler conversation – the one where the young 20-something says, “Osama who?” – that this country will find itself, after a decade of war, in a time of relative peace?
Or is it true, like Sommerfeld said, that the world will never be the same in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 – that, even with one Ace of Spades terrorist in a deck of cards gone, there will still be 51 more lurking beneath?