GALIEN, Mich. (AP) _ Cheyenne Vallance-Kirk is celebrating her first Christmas with a sparkling tree, new toys and a loving family. She has everything a baby girl should have - except her mommy.

Hollie Vallance is a soldier in Saudi Arabia, waiting for a possible war, wondering about the baby she left behind this summer, a 7-week-old bundle of sweetness, now being cuddled and cared for by her daddy.

''It comes pretty naturally,'' says Anthony Kirk, heating a bottle while cradling 5 1/2 -month-old Cheyenne in his arms. ''The baby's teaching me. If you're not doing something right, she'll scream and holler. You've got to figure out what to do.''

''He's done a remarkable job,'' boasts mother-in-law Sharon Vallance. ''You can just tell she's a real happy baby and that just shows to me that a baby's being well taken care of. ... You know that things are right.''

Kirk is among thousands of Army spouses whose lives have been turned around by Operation Desert Shield, a military operation in which roles are reversed for many families. Moms are toting guns and cleaning tanks in the Persian Gulf, while dads are hauling groceries and washing clothes at home.

The separation creates a special strain and sadness in the Christmas season.

''None of us can really get in the holiday mood,'' says Mrs. Vallance. ''It's been real hard just to get the tree and decorate it. ... I think it's real hard (Hollie) missing Cheyenne's first Christmas.''

Still, it will be a special day for baby Cheyenne, with gifts of clothes, quilts, sing-along toys, rattles and a little mirror for her crib. She'll have all the joy but none of the emptiness and fear her family shares.

''We're all scared to death if something happens over there, what she'll be doing and where she'll be at,'' Mrs. Vallance says of her daughter.

Kirk, 27, often says he wishes he could trade places with his wife.

''I wouldn't have to worry about Hollie,'' he says. ''I just feel the baby needs her mother more than a father.''

But Cheyenne has been getting plenty of parenting since Spec. 4 Hollie Vallance, a 22-year-old medic, kissed her baby goodbye last August as the Army's 197th Infantry Brigade pulled out from Fort Benning, Ga.

Her maternity leave had ended just two days earlier.

At first, Kirk continued working at Royal Crown Cola in Columbus, Ga., placing Cheyenne with a baby sitter.

''My boss told me you can't work and take care of the baby, too,'' he recalls. ''I said 'You watch me, I'll do it.' It lasted five weeks.''

Father and daughter then moved into his parents' southwestern Michigan home, just minutes from his in-laws. Raising Cheyenne is a family affair.

Kirk's six brothers and sisters live at home or nearby. And there are 10 grandchildren. ''We always have little babies around the house, so it's nothing new,'' says his mother, Sonja.

Fatherhood, however, was new for Kirk, now unemployed.

''He was sitting here one morning about 5:30, holding her and he had changed her, dressed her and fed her and he looked at me and said, 'I don't care what you say, this is a woman's job,''' says Kirk's father, Larry.

But he has adjusted, rising before dawn, feeding Cheyenne her formula, changing her diaper, dressing her, soothing her as she starts teething.

''It's made me realize how much time and care a child needs,'' he says.

He has learned Cheyenne loves baths and other children. And he jokes about her temper.

Kirk dutifully chronicles all these details to his wife in letters, faxes, videos and a few precious phone calls.

He tells her how big Cheyenne's brown eyes are, how she's grown into a 16- pound charmer, how she's started crawling, how cute her pierced ears are, how she enjoys looking in the mirror and how her tiny feet already are outgrowing the red Mary Janes that match her red velvet and lace dress.

''I think she worries about missing everything,'' Mrs. Vallance says. ''She's not seeing any of this. I don't think she worries about her care. She has the utmost confidence in him.''

In one letter her mother received, Ms. Vallance told her a Saudi family with a little girl visited her area one day. ''She said she just had to go to her tent. She just broke down. She couldn't take it.''

Kirk and his mother-in-law stay busy. Both attended a support group meeting for families with relatives in the Persian Gulf. ''It just made me feel good to talk about it,'' he says.

Both also try to be upbeat. Mrs. Vallance says her daughter is a positive thinker who had no complaints about being ordered to the Mideast. ''She really felt like it was her duty and that's what her job was,'' she says.

Last summer, Kirk thought his wife would be home in three months. Then six. Now everyone is hopeful the family will be reunited by Cheyenne's first birthday July 4th.

Meanwhile, Kirk and Mrs. Vallance regularly show Cheyenne pictures of her mother.

A week before Christmas, Kirk's wife called and reassured him of her safety. ''I told her it didn't matter, I'm still going to worry,'' he says.

''I know someday we'll be back together,'' he adds. ''Hopefully, soon.''


EDITOR'S NOTE - Sharon Cohen is the AP's Midwest regional reporter, based in Chicago.