Two-year-old Jennifer Garcia, wearing a small yellow ribbon pinned to her shirt, says her father is in "the sandbox."

She misses him, but she doesn't realize he's gone away to fight a war, said her mother, Tracey Garcia of Silver Run.

"When she sees it on the news, she says, 'That's where my daddy is,' " Tracey said.

Army Spec. Mark Garcia, whose parents live in Finksburg, has been in the Persian Gulf area since Oct. 13. His family last heard from him on Dec. 28 when he called his wife and parents from "somewhere in the Saudi desert," Tracey said.

"He sounded very upbeat. They were planning on moving toward a border on the first of January," she said, adding that her husband was told not to say exactly where he was.

Mark's parents, Pat and Florentino B. Garcia Jr., and Tracey write to Mark several times a week, even though they're not sure he's receiving mail.

Mark, 21, is a mechanic who was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, when he was sent to the Persian Gulf. He joined the Army in 1987 for a three-year stint and signed up for another three years last year, Tracey said.

Florentino, who's also called "Chico," said his son works as part of a team that goes out into the field to retrieve and repair damaged or broken vehicles.

Florentino served in the Marine Corps between the Korean and Vietnam wars.

"I still take pride in being an ex-Marine, but I'm not a warmonger. I wish this could've been settled peacefully," he said.

Pat said she had mixed feelings about U.S. involvement before the war began,mostly because she didn't know a lot about Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. She limits the time she spends listening to news reports.

"I can watch it so long, but when the protesters come on, it makes me angry," she said.

It doesn't matter that many protesters say they support the troops while opposing the war; the two are the same, she and Tracey said.

Tracey, 23, moved from Texas in December to live with her parents while her husband is away. She and Mark have been married almost three years. They met when both were 4-H camp counselors.

"He's proud to be doing what he's been trained to do," she said."This is his career. Being over there has not changed his feelings toward the military."

Tracey said her husband has sent her some "silly" T-shirts from his travels. One read, "Kuwait City -- Under New Management." Another said, "U.S. Troops Summer Tour 1990."

Pat saidshe relies on Tracey for support.

"She's sort of my rock right now. It helps to have a sweet daughter-in-law."

Tracey said, "I feellike I have to hold myself together for Jennifer."

Pat has been attending a weekly support group in Westminster for families with relatives in the Persian Gulf. The group meets from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturdaysat the Kessler Shoe Manufacturing Co. at 191 Shaeffer Ave.

Through the group, Pat said she's eaten a military ration, seen chemical warfare gear and realized other mothers are feeling the same things sheis.

Since her son's been gone, she's kept an electric candle lit in her window when the sun is down in Saudi Arabia. One day, Jennifer remembered the candle and plugged it in.

"Daddy needs light," Pat heard her say.

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