Maryland families wait, watch as fighting escalates WAR IN THE GULF

With her son's life at stake in the ground war against Iraq, Baba Whisler did not expect to move a muscle away from her television set last night.

"We're watching it very closely," said Ms. Whisler, whose son, Pfc. Matt Whisler, 20, serves in the Army's 82nd Airborne. "We know he's in the midst of it."


"It's going to be a long night. I can tell you that."

She was not alone. Across Maryland, people turned on their televisions after the ground war was launched and waited for details of the invasion. They listened to President Bush, argued over strategy and prayed it would be over quickly.


Linda Barr, whose son, Steven Jarrard, is an M-1 tank mechanic in Saudi Arabia, was resigned to the ground war before it started. She knew Saddam Hussein would not retreat from Kuwait.

"Any kind of demands the U.S. wants, he's not going to meet them," the Dundalk woman said. "He's not going to run from that country with his tail between his legs."

Ms. Barr prays for her son's safety but knows she has no control over his fate. He was scheduled to return from Germany on Dec. 15 after a three-year tour there. Instead, he was sent to Saudi Arabia, where he will follow the M-1 tanks across the desert into battle.

"I was thinking about trying to write him a note to get him excused like I used to do when he was in school," she said. "But I knew that wouldn't work."

Sally Mericle, a 38-year-old Baltimore graphics designer who co-founded a program that hopes to create 400,000 "NO WAR" badges, said the beginning of the ground war terrified and angered her.

"I don't think it had to come to any of this," she said last night. "There's been two or more peace proposals laid out on table, and we just reject everything. Bush is being pretty unreasonable, if you ask me."

At the American Legion Post 40 in Glen Burnie, about 70 members sat munching snacks, sipping beers and, once again, staring at military analysts and maps on the TV.

Word that the allied forces had launched the ground war against Iraq brought cheers -- and relief -- among many of the veterans.


"A whole lot of the guys here said we should have done this earlier," said the post's commander, George Perez, a 65-year-old veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

"What they're saying is now this Hussein's burning Kuwait to the ground and executing Kuwaiti people. The way of thinking around here is, 'Let's get it done quick, and get our sons and daughters back home quick.' "

At the Fort McHenry American Legion Post in Locust Point, the decision to launch a ground war won praise among about a dozen members there last night, said Doris Maenner, post bartender.

"People here know we were going to have to go in there and clean [Hussein] out, or he'll be back doing the same stuff," Ms. Maenner said. "You hate to see more casualties, but it's a sacrifice that has to be made."

In Columbia, Dorris Creager took one call after another from family members concerned about her son, Sgt. Norman T. Carter, 29, who serves with the 82nd Airborne.

"I'm a little numb," Mrs. Creager said. "But I expected it."


She plans to put her faith in God and take the new phase of the war one day at a time.

"As long as no one knocks on the door, we're OK," she said. "We know this is his job. We know this is what he wants to do.

"We're just trusting in the Lord that he'll take care of him."