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Relief, concern greet news of bin Laden's death
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Forsyth County News


Sgt. Jack “Gunny” Snook was watching television Sunday night when he received a text message from son Jay, a Marine pilot stationed in California.

It read simply: “We got bin Laden.”

“I think this is great,” said Snook, one of the leaders of North Forsyth High School’s Marine Corps JROTC program, of Osama bin Laden's death.

“This should send a message around the world that if you do something to harm the U.S., that no matter how long it takes, we will get you.”

President Barack Obama announced late Sunday that bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, had been killed in a private compound in Pakistan.

A group of Navy SEALs accomplished the covert mission, with reports that bin Laden was caught in a barrage of bullets as he fired at the Americans. His body was gathered up and later buried at sea, following Islamic tradition that requires a speedy burial.

Reports of bin Laden's death stirred a range of emotions for Snook and other Forsyth County area residents

Danny Bowman's thoughts turned to the families of New York City firemen killed during the events of nearly a decade ago.

“The 343 families left behind are still without their loved ones, bin Laden’s capture or death will not bring back their loved ones,” said Bowman, Forsyth County's fire chief. “Now each of those families will have to deal with this in their own way.”

Amos Amerson said he was glad to hear that bin Laden had been killed.

“I’m just sorry it’s 10 years later,” said Amerson, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and state lawmaker who represents part of Forsyth.

“I would love for this to send a message to the rest of the Middle East that you just can’t take it for granted that we won’t take action if you try to screw us over.”

'Totally an American endeavor'

Geoff Toman, commander of American Legion Post 307 in Cumming, said the task performed by Special Forces troops in getting bin Laden was an “amazing feat.”

“Not only would the people have to be experts at what they do, but they’d have to be able to keep it totally secret because that’s the important part of that kind of a thing,” Toman said. “I’m just in awe of the work they did.”

A former member of the Air Force, Toman noted that it was the Navy SEALs who carried out the mission.

“It’s unusual for them to do something on land, but that just shows you how versatile they are,” he said.

Toman said he heard of bin Laden’s death on Sunday night. Even though he was on vacation, he shared the news with family and military friends.

“Of course, we’re very pleased that they caught the man,” he said. “Now we can give our military a chance to do some of the other things for the country to help them continue with their democracy.”

Toman also pointed out the strike “was totally an American endeavor,” emphasizing the hard work put in by U.S. forces without support of other nations.

'Don't know what to expect'

Bonnie Marshall's son Taylor deployed Tuesday to Afghanistan with the Army’s 25th Infantry Division.

On Monday, the Forsyth County woman said her son told her the unit is glad bin Laden is dead, but “it doesn’t change anything.”

She said he told her “if anything, it makes more uncertain about what’s ahead.”

Her worries are raised.

“I’m thinking now about what kind of retaliation is going to (befall) the U.S. because of this,” Marshall said.

“What sort of cells or pockets of terrorists are out there that are going to be upset at America?”

She believes “the military is really going to be on their toes because they don’t know what to expect.”

'Difficult to defeat a tactic'

If this was a war on Osama bin Laden, America would have won.

But while a symbol for terrorism in America, “terrorism is a tactic, and it’s difficult to defeat a tactic of any kind,” said Ron Martz, professor at North Georgia College & State University.

“What this will actually do is cut down on the number of attacks by al Qaeda and its followers, but ... there could be some other groups out there that could be splinter groups that could be a factor.”

Martz said in the near future, there will likely be a diminished presence of terror activities.

Under bin Laden, al Qaeda was led by charisma that appealed to its followers. Without the leader, the terrorist group will become disorganized.

“But in the long run, it might come back in another form,” he said.

The death will also likely increase President Barack Obama’s poll numbers, Martz said. But there’s still a lot of time remaining for the accomplishment to carry him through the 2012 election.

The Obama administration also has another challenge ahead — doubters.

“The problem with killing him and not releasing any evidence that he’s actually dead is it raises the possibility of all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories coming out that he’s not really dead,” Martz said.

“Given the high-profile nature of this, the political pressure is going to be as such that they will have to release a photo of him.”

'Proud of this country'

Amerson, the District 9 state state representative from Dahlonega, described the raid in Pakistan as the event of a lifetime for the Navy Seals and other U.S. forces.

“All military men just wish it had been them involved," he said. "If I was younger, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world."

“It was a relatively small force that went in. They did a good job and I’m proud of them ... and proud of this country for providing them the equipment and providing the men we needed to do it and providing the intelligence necessary to take him down.”

Amerson said while killing bin Laden is a huge accomplishment, terrorism is still alive. He warns Georgians and Americans from traveling to the Middle East for a while.

“You have terrorists still around who will try to take it out on Americans -- bin Laden may have already had plans in place for terrorism for the next six months -- so it’s hard to say if we’re safer or not.”

'Doesn't mean that we are safe'

At North Forsyth, Snook said he and Mac Kelley, the other JROTC leader, “talked briefly with the cadets” about the news.

“[The students] were pretty charged up about this, but we reminded them that just by getting bin Laden doesn’t mean that we are safe," Snook said. "In fact, we are at greater risk now from the backlash from the extreme radical Muslims and unknown terrorist cells throughout the world.”

Still, Snook said the death of the terrorist leader still sends a strong message to possible U.S. threats.

“I’m afraid this terrorist network is like a [hydra] snake with many heads. Some other idiot will step up to take [bin Laden’s] place,” he said. “But that’s OK. We’ll just take him out too and soon no one will want to be in charge.

“This should send a clear message across the entire terrorist network to not screw with us.”

'Going to give them pause'

Kerry Stewart, a Gainesville State College professor set to take an intensive course in terrorism studies next month in Israel, said he was pleased but not particularly surprised at the president’s announcement.

“I knew it would take a long time, but I knew also that we would get him some day,” said Stewart, who has an article set for this fall’s Digest of Middle Eastern Studies, “Just War and Terrorism: A New Policy Perspective.”

He doesn’t believe bin Laden’s death is going to have a profound effect on the U.S. war against terrorism.

“Certainly, he was a symbol (of terrorism), but primarily a symbol only,” Stewart said. “Most of these organizations work on their own. Even al-Qaida has several different branches throughout the world.

“They may even step up in the next few months for retaliation purposes. Certainly, (bin Laden’s death) is going to give them pause, and for the nations that harbor (terrorists), like Pakistan, give them pause to continue to do so.

“Because we will get whomever we go after.”

'Embrace the moment'

Bowman, the fire chief, leads Forsyth County’s annual 9/11 memorial ceremony.

He is relieved the hunt for bin Laden is over, but noted it is forcing families who lost someone during the tragic events to relive the trauma all over again.

“There will be others, many others, who will pick up where bin Laden left off," Bowman said. "Terrorists are a cancer and that one dose of chemo [Sunday] will not make us cancer free."

Bowman cautioned that there are "going to be many individuals who will take bin Laden’s place and will make him into a martyr now."

"We can never let down our guard," he said. “But for now, let’s embrace the moment knowing that one schoolyard bully has been stopped in his tracks, never again to be a threat to our chosen way of life.”

Staff Writers Alyssa LaRenzie and Crystal Ledford, as well as Jeff Gill of the FCN regional staff, contributed to this report.