Even though she was seven months pregnant, Suzanne Mauris was sympathetic last January when her husband, Stephen, was deployed to Iraq with his Maryland National Guard military intelligence unit for 18 months.
"It's what he's trained for," said Mauris, of Fulton. "I fully support him in what he's doing."
Since then, Mauris's resolve sometimes has given way to anxiety as Iraqi insurgents have launched sporadic rocket attacks at Camp Cooke, 15 miles north of Baghdad, where her husband's unit is assigned.
Nine soldiers from a combat team at the camp were killed in recent months, says the National Guard. Mauris and others with family members there worry about their loved ones walking through the sprawling camp and standing in long lines to call or send e-mail home.
"We felt that made them a target," said Jill Reese, a College Park resident whose brother-in-law is also serving at Camp Cooke with the 629th Military Intelligence Battalion from Laurel.
To help their loved ones, Mauris, Reese and others have formed a nonprofit group to raise money to help purchase more telecommunications equipment for the 629th soldiers based at Camp Cooke.
"What we wanted to set up for them was more for the families' benefit," said Mauris. "They haven't heard from loved ones as much as they wanted to."
Eighteen men and one woman make up the 629th Military Intelligence Battalion at Camp Cooke, analyzing weaknesses that would make coalition forces vulnerable to attack, said Maj. Charles S. Kohler, public affairs officer for the Maryland National Guard.
In recent months, Camp Cooke has grown from about 2,000 to 10,000 soldiers. While workers are rushing to install more telecommunications facilities, they have not kept up with the camp's rapid expansion. "The infrastructure just wasn't there to support that many people," said Capt. Kristine Munn, speaking for the National Guard.
An April 24 rocket attack on Camp Cooke that killed four soldiers and wounded five others "definitely got us moving," said Mauris. After the attack, a quick call home from a member of the 629th Battalion confirmed that the unit was okay. No other information came for a week.
"I try not to watch the news all the time," Mauris said. "When you do see it, your heart drops out of your chest."
The soldiers of the 629th Battalion have talked about trying to get their own satellite dish, but that would cost about $21,000, she said.
The new nonprofit organization, Friends of the 629th MI Battalion Inc. (www.friendsof629.org), has applied for federal status as a charitable organization. In the future, the group hopes to be able to also offer emergency financial assistance for military families and scholarships for children who have lost a parent in combat.
Kohler said the Maryland Guard supports the families' initiative but also said the Guard has its own nonprofit foundation that might be able to help.