Veterans React to bin Laden's Death

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, shared his reactions to the death of Osama bin Laden.

Paul Rieckhoff was in the National Guard and was a first responder in New York City on 9/11. He also served in the Iraq war as a first lieutenant and an infantry rifle platoon leader. After hearing of bin Laden's death, he — along with many New Yorkers — went to the WTC site to memorialize a successful end to the long hard fight to find al Qaeda's leader.

"It's good news"

So, what does bin Laden's death mean to this veteran? "It's good news." And it's been a long time coming.

For the last ten years, we've been working hard to try to find this guy. We've been sacrificing so much ourselves and on behalf of our families. And I think there were times when folks moved on to other things and forgot about this, and we were always focused on this, so I think it's good news, it's sobering...but I think this is really good news for our military, especially a time when they needed a boost.

Rieckhoff said there were many veterans at Ground Zero on Sunday night after bin Laden's death was announced and there was a real feeling of pride and unity and patriotism. It may be all the public recognition these veterans get, Rieckhoff said.

It's important to note that this is a community that's probably not going to get a victory parade. They're not going to walk through the city and get showered in ticker tape and they have been slugging away for a very, very long time and I think there's a feeling that they deserve some praise.

But, the march goes on

As good news as bin Laden's death may be, it doesn't mean the fight is over, Rieckhoff said.

This does bring some closure to many folks but it doesn't eliminate the threat to our troops overseas. April was the deadliest month in Iraq in almost two years and now the Taliban is going to launch another spring offensive in Afghanistan, so we want to make sure that Americans don't lose focus on our troops and families who are over there right now during this critical time and are still running missions. Right after that mission was concluded, folks went back outside the wire, went back on a checkpoint, went back out on patrol.

Americans have been in Afghanistan for nearly ten years and though the public may be tired, Reickhoff said we have to keep the dialogue going about why we're still there and what needs to happen next.

There are a plenty of times a few years ago where we jokingly referred to it as 'Forgot-istan.' There's some folks now that there's no war at all in Iraq. They think the plug has been pulled and there are no folks over I think it's a conversation we need to have. I expect to see a draw down over time. I think that's what the administration planned anyway and this will probably accelerate that.