Editor's note: Army Lt. Matt Spartz, a lifelong Lombard resident, completed his yearlong deployment and was waiting to leave Afghanistan when news broke of Osama bin Laden's killing. He filed this report while in between planes on his return to the U.S.
A commotion woke me minutes before we walked to our C-17 that was waiting to take us finally out of Afghanistan.
Our customs specialist proclaimed: "They just announced on the news that Osama bin Laden is dead!"
Cheers erupted from the more than 130 soldiers who had just finished their deployments to Operation Enduring Freedom X-XI.
"We did it!" one soldier yelled.
"Bring everybody home with us!" said another, extrapolating that bin Laden's death meant that the rest of the soldiers still fighting should simply pack up and squeeze onto our flight. I thought it was a grand idea.
After 24 hours of nearly no sleep, waiting for my final flight out of Afghanistan, it was hard to really grasp what was being said, and none of us knew the details behind what had transpired outside that room. At the time, I dishearteningly thought the world's most wanted terrorist had finally succumbed to his rumored health ailments and it was now being officially released that he had passed away.
It wasn't until after our flight from Bagram Air Field to Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan that a soldier getting ready to enter the war updated me on the news.
"Killed?" I said. I just couldn't believe it. The day I left Afghanistan the U.S. had accomplished its most coveted and controversial mission -- we brought to justice the man deemed overall responsible for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
I have to be honest, it really did feel like the war was, in fact, over. Not only was there hardly anyone around to shoot at me in Bagram, I had tuned in my last magazine of ammo for my M4 carbine. In Manas, you're not even allowed to carry a weapon.
But not everyone felt the same. Sure, everyone has been elated with the news, and most people eating in the dining facilities were glued to the reports coming in on MSNBC and Fox News.
But these soldiers and Marines have a more unique perspective on the death of al-Qaida's number one man. This won't stop the roadside bombs being planted along the Pech River Road. This won't dissolve the 7.62mm bullets the local Mujahedeen fighters will use to shoot at Combat Outpost Honaker Miracle, or that the Taliban will use against the Marines in southern Kandahar. The death of bin Laden won't shutter the madrassas in Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas, training 10-year-old children for suicide bombings.
Many soldiers were joking about the similarities of the celebrations outside the White House and in New York City to those around the Islamic world after the Twin Towers fell nearly 10 years ago. Some thought it was disgusting that these Americans could put such significance in the death of one man, and sink to the same level as celebrators after 9/11.
But this is the view from the front lines. Large political and information operations victories are hard to digest when you have spent the last year looking, literally and figuratively, uphill with bullets whizzing downhill.
Killing bin Laden won't bring any more soldiers home from Afghanistan. If anything, his death will probably kick off a few ideologically motivated attacks that may kill more soldiers. Troops on the ground understand this better than anyone else. But I have yet to talk to anyone who doesn't present at least a smirk when uttering, "Yeah, we got 'em."
Killing bin Laden won't win or end Operation Enduring Freedom or the fighting in Afghanistan. But it's one heck of a start.
If I can ever get a flight that will finally take me to Fort Campbell, I'll gladly have a frosty beer on that victory.