Army veteran Dan Wilden was studying for a final exam Sunday night when a friend called and told him to turn on the news: Osama bin Laden was dead.
Wilden suspended his study session to answer a flood of phone calls from guys he had served with in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One buddy even called from a military base in Afghanistan.
"He was kind of joking, 'Hey, you hear what we did?'" said Wilden, 24, of Houston.
The buddy was in a celebratory mood, but alcohol is banned in the combat zone. So Wilden drank a beer for him.
In Houston and across the country, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans raised their glasses to the Navy SEALs credited with killing bin Laden, and to the memory of comrades lost in the decade of fighting since 9/11.
Bin Laden's death is a dramatic morale booster for those who served in the war on terror, now aptly dubbed The Long War. But even as Iraq and Afghanistan veterans on Monday cheered bin Laden's demise, they recognized the fight will go on without him.
"In some ways, I feel it's a great accomplishment," said Wilden, a University of Texas student who served in Afghanistan from 2005-06 and Iraq from 2007-08. "It's kind of a means of closure. But on the other side of things, it's just one man, and we haven't been fighting just one man the past 10 years or so."
Army veteran Brad Morris, 25, watched the news break live Sunday night on TV from his couch in Houston.
"Oh yeah, it's a great day," Morris said Monday. "As somebody who was in Afghanistan for a year, it's definitely something to be happy about. It's definitely a mission accomplished."
Morris served a tour in Iraq from 2004-05 and one in Afghanistan from 2007-08. He said bin Laden is more of a figurehead than an active participant in either war, "but as far as morale victories, this definitely is one."
Like many veterans, Morris is proud of the role elite U.S. troops played in carrying off a clandestine raid of bin Laden's compound without suffering any American casualties.
"Having the most powerful military in the world does pay off," he said. "I'm glad I'll never have to hear again, 'Well, you never got bin Laden.' "
But pride is tempered by a sober assessment of work that remains to be done, especially in Afghanistan.
"OK, we did this one, but there's still a way bigger mission to accomplish," Morris said. "We've got to rebuild the whole country and establish a government. It's a good start, because it takes power away from (the Taiban), but at the same time, they announced the spring offensive yesterday. They probably knew he was dead before we did, and that hasn't changed any of their plans. And it shouldn't change any of our plans either."
John Boerstler was incredulous Sunday when he learned of bin Laden's death from text messages sent by friends he'd served with in Iraq from 2004-05.
"I couldn't believe it, really," said the 29-year-old Marine veteran from Missouri City. "I still can't believe it. It's crazy."
Boerstler serves as president of the Lone Star Veterans Association, a nonprofit organization founded in Houston for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
The group sent out an email message to members on Monday, with the subject heading, "So Long OBL." The email invited veterans to an impromptu gathering at a local bar "to hoist a pint" to the Navy SEALs, intelligence operatives and all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines "who helped end the life of the man responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans."
But even as Boerstler celebrated with fellow veterans in Houston on Monday, his heart was with the 800 Marines and Navy corpsmen deployed to Afghanistan right now with his old unit, Houston-based 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment. Boerstler served alongside many of them.
"There are still people over there trying to bring this war to a close," he said.
Last updated by Lone Star Veterans Association May 17, 2011.