Public officials may wax and wane about just how visible they want workers to be in their support of U.S. troops in the Middle East, but at least one private billboard firm has no such jitters.

In prominent view of the 50,000 cars that pass through the busy intersection of New York and Florida avenues NE each day, the Revere National Corp., an outdoor advertising firm, last week erected atop a tall pole a 14-by-48-foot message of support for U.S. military men and women in the Persian Gulf.

The backdrop is a close-up of Old Glory, unfurling over a sunbaked desert and wrapped in a bright yellow ribbon. Splashed across the scene are the words "Desert Storm."

And the only shifting opinions are from curious motorists and passersby who early this week still could not decide for sure what the message was.

George Plinkett smiled as he spotted the billboard for the first time while waiting in his pickup truck for the light to change.

"It says it all: Our boys are going to deep-six that quack from Iraq," he said.

In the next car, Mary Everett saw the message in gentler terms: "I'm not sure what it means, but there's nothing up there about violence," she said.

Gwen Stewart focused on the position of the low-lying sun in the background. "It could the beginning of {President} Bush's new world order or the end of Saddam Hussein," she said. "I don't know which."

It's neither, said Charlie Marino, general manager of Revere.

"It was only meant to support the troops," he said. "No political message . . . intended."

The idea originated with the 23 employees in his Cottage City, Md., branch who about three weeks ago decided to create a sign to fill an empty billboard along Route 355 in Gaithersburg after they realized that a quarter of them had close friends or family stationed in the gulf.

"We thought the sign would help everybody who thinks of someone over there," Marino said. "It seemed then that so many had forgotten about the troops."

At first, there was going to be only one sign. The employees designed it together and decided it should simply say "Desert Shield."

But midway through the project, the United States and its allies began bombing Iraq, and the military renamed its mission "Desert Storm." The panels were hastily repainted and put up the next day.

The billboard produced so much positive reaction that the company decided to paint another, this one on outbound New York Avenue.

Revere's plan now is that every two weeks until the war ends, the signs will be relocated to new billboard locations in the Washington area. Revere owns about 50 here.

"Then we'll probably do something like 'Welcome home, troops,' " Marino said.

The signs have proven to be a public relations bonanza, but Marino insists that they are not part of any marketing strategy.

"When there's a war on, you don't think of that," he said.

If the signs had been contracted, Revere would have charged about $5,000 a month each for painting and display.