Why I Serve: Dad Travels World With 'Mini Alyssa'
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 19, 2005 Nine-year-old Alyssa DeGreef has seen a quite a bit of Central Asia from her cozy seat in her dad's pocket.
Air Force Lt. Col. Mike DeGreef poses with his well-traveled Mini Alyssa, a picture his 9-year-old daughter drew of herself. Photo By Kathleen T. Rhem
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Air Force Lt. Col. Mike DeGreef, commander of the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, has carried a small copy of a picture his daughter Alyssa drew of herself since he was deployed here from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., in February.
Alyssa made the original picture of herself for a class project modeled on the "Flat Stanley" program. In the title book by Jeff Brown, Stanley is squashed flat by a falling bulletin board. An advantage of being flat is that Flat Stanley can now visit his friends by traveling in an envelope.
Alyssa's third-grade teacher in Spokane, Mr. Elmore - whom "all the kids love," DeGreef said - had the students draw pictures of themselves to send to or with friends and relatives in far-flung places.
The first "Flat Alyssa" traveled with a high-school-aged cousin who went on a chorus trip to China. When DeGreef learned of his upcoming deployment, he printed his own "Mini Alyssa" from a photo the cousin took in China.
"I made it to bring Mini Alyssa along with me," he told American Forces Press Service.
Since February, Mini Alyssa has traveled on aerial refueling missions over Afghanistan and Tajikistan, helped refuel an aircraft, and "flew" a KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft.
She also had her picture taken with Charlie Daniels when the famous country singer performed at Manas and with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld when he visited the base April 14.
DeGreef said he sends e-mail notes and digital photos to his family outlining Mini Alyssa's adventures. "My daughter was pretty thrilled about all the things that Mini Alyssa has been doing," he said.
DeGreef said he gets a lot of satisfaction from his unit's mission in Kyrgystan. "We're making a difference in the world," he said.
But, he said, it's still hard to be away from family. "The family makes a big sacrifice too," he said. "And we definitely appreciate what they do and how they support us."
The commander explained there's a lot of operational stress on the Air Force tanker fleet. "A lot of guys are gone over 200 days a year in the tanker world because everybody needs to be refueled," he said.
Because of the long amounts of time spent away from home, DeGreef said he works hard to ensure his airmen stay connected to their families back home.
"As a commander, a big thing I have to do is deal with the people and the people problems," he said. "So we try and remind them there's a lot of good programs out there that help the families out, and we do what we can for the guys here."