AUGUSTA – There were no hoo-rahs, no fist bumps, no Humvee horns tooting Monday morning at Camp Keyes, headquarters for the Maine Army National Guard.

In fact, the only outward indication that Osama bin Laden is finally history was a long ribbon of yellow caution tape preventing anyone from parking near the building — one of the heightened security measures now in place at military installations throughout the United States and beyond.

“My first thought was justice,” said Maj. General John W. “Bill” Libby, whose entire seven-year tenure as commander of the Maine Army National Guard has been defined by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Here’s a guy in most people’s minds who was principally responsible for the 9/11 attacks and what we’ve been doing the past 10 years,” Libby said. “And justice has finally been served.”

But, Libby noted, “you didn’t come through the door seeing high fives being exchanged. You didn’t see a celebration.”

And with good reason.

Four times since 2004, I’ve had the privilege of traveling to Iraq or Afghanistan to report on the many and varied missions of Maine’s so-called “citizen soldiers.”

I’ve watched the Maine Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion build schools, health clinics, roads and other much-needed infrastructure from its forward operating base in Mosul, Iraq.

I’ve also watched those same soldiers grieve twice — once after a roadside attack killed one of their own, and again after a suicide bomber self-detonated in the chow hall and killed 22, including two Mainers.

I’ve watched Alpha Company, 1-121 Field Artillery Battalion, escort seemingly endless supply convoys from the Kuwait border up the often treacherous Highway Tampa to military bases throughout Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I’ve watched the nurses and medical technicians from Maine save the lives of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and local civilians alike at the Army Reserve’s 399th Combat Support Hospital in the Iraqi city of Tikrit.

And a year ago next month, I watched members of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Mountain Infantry patrol the Afghanistan-Pakistan border from tiny Combat Outpost Dand wa Patan.

Rarely did any of these soldiers talk much about Osama bin Laden. His status and his whereabouts were, as they say in the military, way outside the Mainers’ lanes.

But he was always there.

Even in Iraq — where it’s now clear the war had a lot more to do with overthrowing, capturing and executing Saddam Hussein than it did punishing bin Laden — there was a sense among more than a few soldiers that their deployment was rooted, first and foremost, in the attacks orchestrated by bin Laden on Sept. 11, 2001.

Some bought President George W. Bush’s claim, however unsubstantiated, of a link between Saddam and bin Laden’s then-thriving al-Qaida network.

Others believed — with ample justification — that if it weren’t for the attacks on Sept. 11, the political will for a war in Iraq simply would not have materialized.

Either way, out of sight by no means meant out of mind. The specter of bin Laden loomed over every incoming mortar, every sniper attack, every memorial service that punctuated the Mainers’ missions throughout the mountains and deserts of Iraq.

Bin Laden’s presence was even more palpable in Afghanistan.

To stand atop Bravo Company’s Observation Post 13 high on a ridge line overlooking the infantry unit’s home base was to peer directly toward the mountainous tribal regions of northwestern Pakistan.

And while the Mainers who manned that post were far more concerned about Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents crossing the border into their “battlespace,” it was impossible to not stare at those distant peaks and wonder where exactly bin Laden was and how he’d managed to stay so hidden for so long.

Now, thanks to a daring and flawlessly executed raid by two dozen Navy Seals and a handful of CIA operatives, bin Laden is dead.

For some, that’s cause for celebration — perhaps even more in Portland than other places. Two of bin Laden’s suicidal disciples did, after all, use our own Portland International Jetport as their steppingstone to infamy almost a decade ago.

But if actually finding bin Laden was outside the Maine Army National Guard’s lane, so is gloating over his long-overdue demise.

“For anybody who’s served over there, it’s something positive,” noted Col. John Jansen, who commanded the 133rd Engineer Battalion and now serves as Libby’s chief of staff. “It helps give a reason to all the efforts that have gone into it. And it’s definitely, I think, a big day for the country.”

But for Jansen, bin Laden’s death has little to do with what he and his soldiers tried to accomplish in Iraq.

“Still today, I have this strong desire and hope that that country will pull everything together,” Jansen said. “Nothing could make me happier than (Iraq) becoming a model country, hopefully democratic in nature, for the rest of the region.”

Capt. Paul Bosse, who led Bravo Company to and from Afghanistan last year, got closer than any other Maine unit commander to where bin Laden was actually hiding.

In a telephone interview from his post in Bangor, Bosse said he was as happy as the next guy to hear of Sunday’s successful raid on bin Laden’s secretive compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad — not so close to the Afghanistan border as many thought.

“It’s a good victory, but I’m not going to revel in it too long,” said Bosse. “I just chalk it up as a victory amongst a number of other victories that still need to happen.”

Bosse said he watched the TV coverage of the mostly youthful jubilation outside the White House late Sunday night and, to be honest, cringed as he pictured it playing over and over on the Arab network Al Jazeera.

“Unfortunately, I’m kind of in the business where I think of how that’s going to reflect (on the United States) around the world,” he said. “I understand people’s excitement about it, but I would be more reserved if it were me.”

Ditto for Libby, who fully appreciates bin Laden’s value as a “symbolic target” but insisted to the steady parade of media visitors to his office Monday that “there’s no joy associated with this news.”

American soldiers, after all, remain in harm’s way. And the general remains a very busy man.

Later this week, Libby will attend two memorial services to commemorate the deaths of Staff Sgt. Dale Kelly Jr., 48, of Richmond and Staff Sgt. David Ververka, a 25-year-old University of Maine student, who lived in Pennsylvania. The two soldiers, members of Bravo Company during its 2006 deployment to Iraq, died from a roadside bomb five years ago this Friday.

Then Libby will turn his attention to a pair of Maine Guard aviation units — one medevac, the other air-assault — tentatively slated for deployment to Iraq in early 2012.

“That’s my reality,” Libby said. “Dealing with what has been and dealing with what is going to be.”

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]