Ehrlich leads rally to support Iraq war

At State House event, he backs deployed troops, Bush's decision to invade

April 15, 2003|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Sounding more like a national politician than a governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. led several hundred people in a rally yesterday in Annapolis to support President Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

The crowd waved American flags and held pictures of loved ones serving overseas as they joined in front of the state capitol to rebut demonstrators who have protested against war in recent weeks.

"Leaders lead, and we have a leader in this country today and his name is George Bush," Ehrlich told the gathering. "Please understand after Iraq, a three-week engagement, we have many engagements to come; some pertain to battles."

Ehrlich said the next phase of the war will likely take American troops to "deserts and jungles" and other foreign lands that harbor terrorists.

"This is a two-decade-old war we began to recognize and fight and understand on 9/11," Ehrlich said, referring to terrorist attacks that date back to the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.

The gubernatorial pep talk was exactly what Darlene Szczeszek wanted to hear.

Szczeszek -- whose son, Jeffrey, 22, was deployed to the Persian Gulf Feb. 8 -- wore a T-shirt that said: "My son is one of the proud -- a Marine."

"My beautiful son is there, and I agree with everything [Ehrlich] said," Szczeszek said. "There have been wars since the Bible. There is a lot of faith in our military, but we just hope they come home safely."

Also speaking at the hourlong event -- which was filled with patriotic music and prayer -- was Ehrlich's wife, Kendel, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

Kendel Ehrlich praised the troops and their commander-in-chief for what she called a mission to bring freedom to the oppressed people of Iraq.

"We come here as we celebrate the courage and heroics of our forces under the historic leadership of President George Bush," she said to cheers.

Schaefer urged residents to shower the troops with praise when they return

"When our people get back from Iraq, go up and say. `Thank you,'" Schaefer said. "I want to say `thank you' because I get very disturbed when I see those professional protesters out there protesting."

The well-choreographed event included reservists from all four branches of the military and the Army National Guard Band. The governor's entire Cabinet sat at the base of the steps.

Many of the people in attendance were sporting flag apparel and carrying hand-painted patriotic signs.

Becky Chance, 52, of Centreville, wore a flag hat and tie and a temporary "USA" tattoo on her face. "I think if they are over there giving their life for their country, then there should be support at home for them," she said.

Suzie Shuttleworth, 21, of Annapolis, held a sign that said "Come Home Safe Cpl. Bird USMC," a reference to her friend, Chris Bird, 23, a Marine deployed to Iraq.

But Ehrlich told the crowd it was not good enough to just "support the troops" -- they also had to "support the cause."

He went on to call Saddam Hussein an "evil regime and an evil man" who, Ehrlich said, is personally responsible for the deaths of 400,000 children in Iraq. Now, Ehrlich said, that country's children are free.

Pat Ranney, 59, of Millersville, said the cause of freedom is one reason she is so proud of her best friend's son, Capt. Brian Ziegler, a Marine deployed in Iraq.

"He is a great guy, but he represents just one of the many out there," Ranney said. "He's walking the walk so we can talk the talk."

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