May 3, 2011



Kelly Merchant, left, and Amy Boynton, right, of Walk A Mile In Their Boots,
hope that with bin Laden's death, more people will reach out to troops still fighting overseas.
For Kelly Merchant of Walk A Mile In Their Boots and others, the death of bin Laden is good news, but it doesn’t change the fact that America is still at war. 
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Kelly Merchant turned on her television Sunday night, as she does each night, with the intention of watching for just one hour.
In her world, TV is mostly a distraction.
But the news coming at her, that 9/11 terror
 mastermind Osama bin Laden had been killed by Navy SEALs in Pakistan, sucked her in.
“After that, I was waiting for President Obama to come on and give his speech,” said Merchant. “And honestly? I cried.”
Although personally happy to know that the man responsible for orchestrating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was finally taken out by American troops, Merchant found it difficult to watch the jubilation reflected initially on her television screen, of Americans reveling outside the White House and celebrating at Ground Zero in New York City.
VFW POST 1617 Commander Gene Pawlik, left,
and fellow member Carl Starosciak.
“My personal reaction is that we still have troops there. It’s irrelevant who actually took him out — we have so many branches of the military that have shared in this mission,” said Merchant. “What I was struck by is that people are willing to cheer for our troops in front of the TV cameras or post their opinions on Facebook, but how many are putting action behind that reaction, and actually doing something to support these young men and women who won’t be coming home anytime soon.”
Last year Merchant and her friend and fellow mom, Amy Boynton, launched a nonprofit organization called Walk A Mile In Their Boots with a singular mission: to be a local support network for existing support networks. They are committed to helping local organizations that raise money for the troops by boosting their morale and fundraising efforts through renewed support, energy and resources. 
Since that time, Merchant’s son has enlisted in the Army Reserves and leaves for basic training this summer. He said he was going to serve, with or without her blessing. 
She and her husband are behind him 100 percent, but not without mixed emotions. 
“So obviously, what Amy and I are trying to do has become that much more personal for me. But let me tell you that since we started this last August, it’s been challenging to get people involved. We’re not blinded by the fact that we’re still in a tough economy, but even finding sponsors for our annual walk in October is frustrating,” Merchant said. “So yes, I’m glad Osama is gone. But let’s take care of our troops. They need us now more than ever.” 
She said she’s also heard many people say they expect bin Laden’s death to somehow hasten the return of American troops from overseas, something Merchant believes is premature. 
“It would be nice to have all our boots back on American soil, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. Osama bin Laden has too many followers for us to pull out that easily,” Merchant said. 
One organization that is solidly behind what Merchant and Boynton are trying to do is Derry VFW Post 1617. Commander Gene Pawlik said Monday there is still much more to be done to stop terror in its tracks. 

Bridget Watson and her son, Thomas Bergan.
“Are we happy he’s gone? Yup. Osama was the ringleader of 9/11. The thing is, it’s easier doing business with a known devil than an unknown devil,” said Pawlik, who served his country between 1955 and 1986. He retired following a two-year stint as an adviser to Saudi Arabian land forces. 
Pawlik said he was struck by the fact that the only condemnation of America’s actions had so far come from the leader of Hamas, in Gaza. 
“If there is going to be retribution from anyone, whether it’s Hamas or al-Qaida, then what? We retaliate back, and it just goes back and forth, and back and forth, forever? You can probably never win a war on terrorism, but you can mitigate it,” Pawlik said. “As for the whole bit about getting our troops out now, I’d ask this question: Do we still have troops in Germany? Do we still have troops in Korea? Do we think, somehow, this thing is going to be different?” Pawlik said. 

Derry resident Bridget Watson and her teenage son, Thomas Bergan, were cutting through the VFW parking lot on Monday afternoon, heading out for some fresh air and a snack. 
They had just heard about bin Laden’s death shortly before leaving home. 
“It’s still sinking in. I’m skeptical, actually. I found out when my 15-year-old stepdaughter texted me,” said Watson. “She said something in her text like, ‘bin Laden’s dead. He’s the one responsible for 911 & stuff. Yay.’ and she had some kind of smiley face after it. Yes, he was a monster, and I hope it’s true. I don’t know, I just feel like I need some better confirmation that it’s definite.” 
She said she isn’t sure what it will take to get over her skepticism. She feels like in the War on Terror, there has been a lot of misinformation and fumbled attempts at disseminating truth to the American public.
“Pictures? I’m not sure that will do it. I think it’s more the sense that, even though he’s gone, he had a bunch of followers, and they’re all still out there. It seems like they’re everywhere, and you just don’t know where they are or when they’ll attack,” Watson said. “You don’t feel quite safe. I mean, we didn’t expect 9/11, that’s for damn sure.” 
Her son, at 15, has lived most of his life in a world at war. 
“I know bin Laden is, like, a terrorist, and that he had something to do with 9/11. Honestly, I’m glad he’s gone. I’d like to see no more bombings. I’d like the fighting to stop,” said Bergan. 
All he really knows for sure about war is that it causes suffering — and loss. 
“My grandpa died in one of the wars, and I never got to meet him. So, yeah: War isn’t good,” he said. “I’d like it to be over now.” 

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