Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., determined to provide a patriotic counterpoint to global protests against the war in Iraq, staged an old-fashioned pep rally yesterday for U.S. troops and their commander in chief on the steps of the Maryland State House.

Against a backdrop of military members in blue and white uniforms, fluttering flags and the music of the Army National Guard Band, Ehrlich praised President Bush for demonstrating leadership with the invasion, declared Maryland "a safer place than it was three weeks ago" and called on every American to support the war as well as the men and women fighting it.

" 'We support the troops' is the minimum -- the minimum -- we can ask of any American citizen," Ehrlich said. "The most important part is to support the cause . . . what allows you to stand here today as free men and women."

Ehrlich defined "the cause" as a war against terrorism that began more than two decades ago, in 1981, when about a dozen U.S. military personnel were injured in a car bomb attack on Ramstein Air Base in Germany, one of the first terrorist attacks on an American military target in modern times.

"Flag-waving is easy," Ehrlich told a flag-waving crowd of about 200 people, many of them wearing badges identifying them as state employees. "Please remember who gave you the ability to do it."

Though Ehrlich did not serve in the military, his father is a Korean War veteran who served in the Marine Corps. Robert L. Ehrlich Sr., in blue jeans and a red jacket, was among those who turned out for the rally, held under a cloudless blue sky on a perfect spring day.

In addition to speeches by Ehrlich, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D), a veteran of World War II, the rally featured prayers for the troops from a rabbi, a priest and a National Guard chaplain. A variety of patriotic tunes were featured, including the country pop anthem "God Bless the U.S.A.," performed by Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset) that had many in the crowd swaying and singing along.

"I think the minority has been very loud, and it's time for the silent majority to stand up and say we support the troops unconditionally," said Judy Vasquez, a state worker from Odenton who was decked out in blue sunglasses, an American flag scarf and a red, white and blue tie done up in sequins.

First lady Kendel Ehrlich was mistress of ceremonies. Along with praise for the troops, she added a plug for her husband's performance as governor. Since he took office in January, the state's first GOP governor in more than 30 years has taken a beating from the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, which approved tax increases for business despite Ehrlich's veto threats.

She said the rally was the governor's idea.

"He loves this music, and he loves our country. . . . And I happen to think he's doing an incredible job as governor of the state of Maryland.

"It hasn't been an easy start," she said. "But he is ready to step up to the plate and fight for the Marylanders who put him in office."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. leads a rally attended by about 200 people in support of U.S. service members in Iraq.