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For military families, bin Laden's death brings fear, uncertainty

By Katie Hawkins-Gaar, CNN
Priscilla Thurman, with her husband, Sgt. Shawn Thurman, and kids, says she's concerned about his upcoming deployment.
Priscilla Thurman, with her husband, Sgt. Shawn Thurman, and kids, says she's concerned about his upcoming deployment.
  • News of Osama bin Laden's death met with a mix of elation and fear by military families
  • Threat of retaliation is shared among many as security alert levels raised
  • Tonja Dreke, along with other military wives, says, "We are all worried about retribution"
  • What's your take? Post a video on CNN iReport or sound off in the comments below

(CNN) -- When Priscilla Thurman first heard the news that terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was killed, she was relieved. Soon after though, she said she started to worry about the threat of retaliation directed at U.S. troops.

Thurman, who lives in Killeen, Texas, is anxiously counting down the days until her husband, Sgt. Shawn Thurman, makes his third military deployment, this time to Afghanistan. Bin Laden's death makes the departure even more nerve-racking, she said.

"While most woke up joyous and thinking it's over or we're all safe now, I woke up feeling very uneasy," Thurman wrote on CNN iReport. The 29-year-old mother of three said she was compelled "to share my opinion because I don't know if there's anyone who feels like I do."

As it turns out, Thurman isn't alone. She's among dozens of military wives, mothers and family members who posted iReports and comments on expressing concern about the threat of retribution in light of bin Laden's death. As celebrations erupted on college campuses and at monuments across the United States until the wee hours of Monday, the reactions from military families painted a much more somber portrait.

Lori Burdette of Augusta, Georgia, spent Monday morning exchanging text messages and Facebook posts with other military wives concerned about their husbands' safety. "I just feel that the general public doesn't realize what this could mean to our military," she said. "They want to think that this might end the war, but what I'm hearing and feeling from other military wives is fear -- fear that this will escalate the evil and cause more harm to our men and women in uniform."

Read Burdette's thoughts on CNN iReport

Although bin Laden's death undoubtedly weakened al Qaeda, many said they expect the terrorist organization to strike back. The U.S. State Department has issued a worldwide travel advisory for Americans traveling abroad, and a soldier in a special forces unit based in Georgia told CNN on Monday that elite military units have sprung into high alert.

"We are all worried about retribution," said Tonja Dreke, who lives at the Schofield Barracks Army post in Wahiawa, Hawaii. "We are scared for the service members currently deployed; we are scared to live on post, where we have the potential to also be a target."

"I just feel that the general public doesn't realize what this could mean to our military.
--Lori Burdette

Since September 11, her husband has been deployed to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once. Dreke knows that bin Laden's death doesn't mean the threat of deployments will end anytime soon, but she said she does feel some sense of relief.

"I really thought that the man would probably die in the mountains of his own health-related issues. That wasn't the way any of us wanted to see him go," she said. "Whether morally wrong to feel this way, we wanted the U.S. to get him. We wanted it to be our guys who killed him. There's a bit more satisfaction in that than to just know he was gone."

Despite all the fears of retaliation, there were moments of celebration, too. Andrew Tyler McDermott, a student at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, captured photos of Navy midshipmen celebrating the death of the terrorist leader Sunday night. The images show a mob of students cheering and running across campus.

McDermott said it was a touching sight. "It was very inspiring when they sang the national anthem; some people even began to cry," he said.

And for Tosha Phillips of Macon, Georgia, bin Laden's death brings her some much-needed closure. She was just 27 when her husband, Staff Sgt. Ronald Phillips Jr., was killed in Iraq in October 2008.

See CNN's Home and Away tribute page to Sgt. Phillips

When she heard the reports that bin Laden had been killed, she cried tears of joy. "Now I feel that my husband's death was for a reason," she said.

Phillips imagined her husband dancing in heaven upon hearing the news of bin Laden's demise. "It gave me hope that one day this war will end, and one day the troops will come home," she said.

CNN's David Williams and Daphne Sashin contributed to this report.