Turning out to rally 'round the U.S. troops

Ellicott City teens' show of support draws about 75

Howard County

March 23, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Kevin D. Milgram and his buddy Kellan Dickens didn't get it.

A few weeks ago, a friend at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City returned to political science class with a sign that read "Books not Bombs" after walking out of school to protest potential military action in Iraq.

"It was ironic they were skipping school to protest that," said Dickens, 17, a senior.

The two Ellicott City residents also thought protests against the war would demoralize U.S. troops overseas, so they planned an event of their own.

"I just want to let people know that we do support them," said Milgram, 18, a senior. "They have a critical job to do. They are our best and bravest."

Yesterday, more than 75 people of all ages lined up at the entrance to Mount Hebron High at Route 99 and St. Johns Lane, waving flags and urging motorists to honk if they support the troops.

The event had all the makings of a Fourth of July picnic. Many came decked out in red, white and blue attire. A boombox blasted the national anthem, "Born in the U.S.A." and "Have You Forgotten?," a song about remembering Sept. 11 by Darryl Worley. Teens and kids tossed Frisbees and red-white-and-blue beach balls as people in shorts and tank tops walked their dogs. Older adults sat in beach chairs and drank sodas from coolers.

Bob Goodwin, a 52-year-old family physician from Columbia, passed out cups of lemonade he had brought. "These kids took their time on their own" to plan the rally, he said. "This is my way of contributing."

Tracey Leake sat on a blanket with her 2-year-old niece, Alyssa Deaver.

"My daddy's a 'rine," Alyssa announced.

Leake said her little brother (and Alyssa's father) Allen Deaver, a 24-year-old lance corporal in the Marines who is originally from Pasadena, had been deployed to Iraq.

"Whether you like it or not, it's going on, so you better support it," Leake said.

Most of those attending were in favor of military action.

Columbia residents Irene Babish, 51, and her husband Dan, 50, are sure of their stance.

"We are pretty much Democrats," said Irene Babish. But the two of them agree with the Republican administration's decision to go to war.

Without going into Iraq, they feel "our children and grandchildren will be paying dire consequences down the road," she said.

Many high school students came after play or sports practices. Milgram and Dickens made a point of organizing the "support our troops" rally on a weekend, so it wouldn't disrupt the school day, they said.

"I can speak for myself - I don't want to miss any class. I'm not protesting education," Milgram said. "I'm not saying [what] the anti-war protesters did was wrong, but I didn't want to do that."

Mount Hebron students who participated in the walkout against war March 5 received a range of punishments, depending on their disciplinary record, said county schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

Planning troubles

When they began planning their rally, Milgram and Dickens met initial difficulty securing permission from the Board of Education to gather at Mount Hebron. The department requires that a legal entity sponsor events and that it have insurance to cover potential damage, said Chuck Parvis, who schedules community activities on school property.

"We don't give permits to individuals," he said.

The Howard County Republican Party agreed to act as sponsor, said Louis M. Pope, party chairman.

Pope stood yesterday waving the flag that normally hangs in front of his house. Nearby was western Howard County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, who was holding up one half of a "Support Our Troops" banner.

"We need folks around here to know more people support our president than don't," Kittleman said.

Milgram said he tried to get a special events permit from the county, but learned it was not necessary because the event would not leave school grounds.

County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewelyn recommended that anyone planning a similar event apply for a permit.

"We assign an officer or officers to conduct increased area checks to ensure safety of participants," she said.

Although the review of applications can typically take up to three weeks, Llewelyn said the process has been streamlined "because we know there may be a sense of urgency for some of the people requesting those permits."

Although yesterday's demonstration is Dickens' first foray into political action, Milgram has been an intern for several elected officials and served as an election judge in November. He hopes to enter the ROTC in college and go to law school.

Separate issues

Milgram and Dickens said they feel that supporting the U.S. troops is important, no matter what one's stance on military action in Iraq.

"I think that you can back the president and disagree with his ideas, as well," Dickens said. "There's a way of supporting people without supporting the cause."

Separating support for the troops from views on policies that led to the war appears to be a distinction being made by many in the Iraqi conflict.

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