Even as she discussed her housing problems and smiled brightly for a family photo with her three small sons, Karen Jarrard waited anxiously yesterday for the start of a U.S. ground war against Iraq.
"I know it's got to start for the war to end," said Mrs. Jarrard, a 23-year-old Dundalk woman whose husband, Steven, is an M-1 tank mechanic stationed in Saudi Arabia. "But I'm nervous."
She forced herself to turn off Cable News Network, bundle up the kids and drive to Ruhl Armory in Towson yesterday afternoon for "Operation Maryland Shield," an open house where people with relatives in the Persian Gulf could seek help from state agencies with any problems they might be having.
Helen Szablya, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Resources, said 71 families attended the three-hour open house to ask questions or get help with housing, finances, health benefits or counseling services.
The turnout might have been higher if the ground war to push Iraq out of Kuwait hadn't been imminent, Ms. Szablya said.
"I suspect many people are huddled together in family groups" watching television, she said. "I think most people don't want to divert their attention."
Cecil McFarland, 57, of Baltimore, focused yesterday on getting medical treatment for her 2-year-old grandson, whose father, Carlton, is stationed in Saudi Arabia in the 101st Airborne Division.
"If the ground war starts, he's going to be right in it," she said.
She has eased his mind by taking care of his son, Carlton Jr. But the little boy has asthma and needs a round of vaccinations, Ms. McFarland said.
She found out yesterday that she may be eligible for a state program that will pay Carlton Jr.'s medical bills until his father gets back.
Mrs. Jarrard's problem will take longer to resolve. Until June, she lived with her husband at an Army base in Germany.
When she and the children returned to Maryland, they expected Steven Jarrard to be transferred to Fort George G. Meade in Anne Arundel County before the end of the year. Instead, he was sent to Saudi Arabia.
Because of the change in orders, Mrs. Jarrard does not qualify for base housing. She lives in an apartment in Dundalk and must drive to Fort Meade to buy groceries at the commissary or take her 2-year-old son to the doctor for asthma treatments.
Mrs. Jarrard is trying to straighten out the problem as she waits for her husband's return.
He missed Christmas with the family for the second year in a row and has not seen their younger son, now 10 months, since the boy was 4 weeks old.
Mrs. Jarrard hasn't spoken to her husband for a month but received a letter dated Jan. 27 on Friday.
"He was telling me what to do if he dies," she said. "He said: 'Don't let the kids forget about me. Tell them their daddy loves them.' That was very depressing."
But she tried to look at the ground war in a positive light. The sooner it began, the sooner her husband could come home.
"I just hope it's short," she said.