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Bin Laden killed, veterans rejoice

When a special television report broke into regular programming Sunday night, it turned out to be news that would have the world buzzing.

President Obama announced that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed by American Special Forces, and although the news surprised many, one local man was expecting it.

"I heard about it before it even came on the news," said Becker County Administrator Tom Mortenson.

Mortenson, who was very recently "Colonel Mortenson," working intelligence with the U.S. Central Command and one of the original eight key war planners who orchestrated the operations into both Afghanistan and Iraq, says his old connections through the CIA and other agencies kept him in the loop even after his Jan. 31 retirement.

A long career in military intelligence made finding bin Laden that much sweeter for Mortenson.

"There has been tremendous pressure to get this man, so this was like icing on the cake for me. He was the face of evil -- in my book he's just like Hitler."

But don't ask Mortenson when he knew about the raid or how much he knew going into it ... he won't tell you.

"It's classified," said Mortenson, "I can't talk about it for 70 years according to my contract," laughs the retired Army colonel.

What Mortenson can talk about are the same, unclassified facts you could hear in media reports.

"From the beginning, we knew he used couriers because cell phones can be tracked. We were able to identify the courier in his inner circle way back in 2007; by 2009 we identified where the courier was operating along with his brother; in 2010 we found the home in question, and it took from then until now to verify the information we had."

In his experience, Mortenson says he's found that time is irrelevant to al-Qaeda terrorists, and they'll wait five years or 100 years to get revenge for bin Laden's killing.

"But we've penetrated his organization in a lot of different ways and destroyed key elements of it," said Mortenson.

"We did not choose this war, we did not choose to kill this man; he inflicted pain and suffering on our people, and Americans, when challenged, will always come to the aid of each other ... just like the floods here or any other situation here, we will stand tall together."

And while details of this worldwide story unfold, local residents touched by this war dissect and absorb the story in their own ways.

"It's a great day for America," said Detroit Lakes Army Veteran Larry Hynding, who is also the man behind the Detroit Lakes Veterans Memorial Highway and future Veterans Memorial Park.

Hynding talked Monday about the bin Laden news, while donning an American flag on his sweater.

"I'm just grateful that we had the military, the leadership and the fortitude to see this mission through."

Hynding says although he doesn't celebrate anybody's death, he had a feeling this symbolic day would come for Americans and the people who suffered because of bin Laden.

"And I was glad to hear that none of our military personnel were injured in the attack."

Detroit Lakes VFW Post 1676 Commander Kohl Skalin served with the Army National Guard unit out of Detroit Lakes, and after being deployed to Bosnia and Iraq for combat operations, was surprised and glad to hear the announcement.

"This is an uplifting moment because another milestone has been met," he said.

"Who knows how much power Osama bin Laden still had, but this is still symbolic."

Skalin says he thinks Americans are celebrating bin Laden's capture even more than Saddam Hussein's because of the pain inflicted on American soil.

"It brings back remembrance of when the Twin Towers fell, and it brings back remembrance of troops who have given the ultimate sacrifice in fighting ... there's an ultimate goal to end the war and this is part of that."

Two of those troops who fought and died in the war on terror are Skalin's fellow Guard soldiers, Greg Riewer of Frazee (whose brother, Andy, was also serving in Iraq at the time and still serves at the Armory in Detroit Lakes) and Josh Hanson of Dent.

Both were killed in combat in Iraq.

"We have memories every day," said Josh Hanson's father, Robert, "but the memories have come a little more often in the past 24 hours," (since the bin Laden killing).

Hanson says there's been a lot of sacrifice from people like his son who try to fight against evil in this war, and says he is pleased bin Laden finally paid the price.

"Bin Laden was the one who directly caused all of the havoc my son and others had to go through," he said. "I'm very proud of my son and all of them over there. I'm sure it's not over, but it's a step in the right direction."