Juan Mercado still has the yellow ribbon tied to his backpack, but the 17-year-old's anxiety ended last week when he heard his father's voice on the telephone.

The Aberdeen High School senior is one of dozens of county students with one or both parents serving in the Persian Gulf who say they finally can sleep peacefully.


"Now he can come see me graduate in June," said Juan.

His father, a U.S. Army civilian worker assigned to working with chemical equipment, left for Saudi Arabia in October. He called regularly until the ground war started, but the family didn't hear from him thereafteruntil last week.


Adina Feliberty, another Aberdeen student, neverexpected her father, an Army warrant officer who worked in processing, to be sent overseas.

But three days before Christmas, Felibertywas sent to process soldiers arriving in Riyadh.

That night, Adina, her younger sister and her mother all slept together on the sofa bed. Adina didn't go to school for three days.

When she did return to classes, the 16-year-old found herself deluged with queries from students and teachers concerned about her welfare.

"We all went around hugging. People just came up and gave me hugs," said Adina. "It really helped."

For Juan, having "every kid in the school" write toservice personnel in Saudi Arabia made him feel that everyone was pulling together.

"A bunch of my friends wrote to my dad, and I wrote to another Army guy," Juan said.

The school sent dozens of cookies overseas, students taped yellow ribbons to their lockers, and the swim team -- of which Juan is a member -- wore swimming caps with U.S. flags on the side.


"Maybe not everyone was for the war, but everyone was for the troops," noted Juan. "That made me feel good."

While support groups took place were at county schools with large numbers of students with a parent in the war, for many younger children, letters and pictures became tangible reminders of faraway parents, said Steven R. Hardy principal at Roye Williams Elementary School, wheremany students' parents served in the military.

About 113 childrenat the school had at least one parent in the gulf war.

One second-grader at Roye Williams proudly brought in a picture of her father to show off, the principal said.

School officials took the child's picture under the school flag to send back to her father.

"Her father also sent me a letter to read to the staff, thanking us all for the help we'd given his child," Hardy said.


Jason McCoy, an 8-year-old at Roye Williams, would talk to his mother when he worried about his father overseas with the army.

"Sometimes before I'd go to sleep, I'd be scared," he recalled. "But my Mom said to stay calm because he'd be coming back real soon."

Kevin Bagley, a fifth-grader at the school, remembers celebrating Christmas early because his father had to leave for Saudi Arabia.

"I didn't feel great. I was used tohim being away for things, but the war makes it different. I didn't want to think about the things that might happen to him," said Kevin."My Mom felt kind of like me. She didn't want to watch the news at first."

The child's teacher, Christine Crosland, helped him by leading the class in discussions about the war, Kevin recalled.

Now, he said, all he can think about is that his father is coming back in May.


"I feel happy," he said. "I just feel happy."