Even in the desert of Kuwait, surrounded by the bravery of fellow soldiers, 1st Lt. Claus Kreinschroeder marvels at the fortitude of an 11-year-old girl.
"She has never been shown anything but love," he says of his daughter, Alyssa. Maybe it's love that has enabled her to get through her mother's cancer, and now, her father's absence.
Alyssa might not recognize her dad now, with his shaved head. But she knows the generosity and quick wit he has displayed here in a staging area called Camp Pennsylvania. He is the officer known for passing out candy bars and Lifesavers.
Back home, he gave Alyssa and her siblings time and the truth. He reassured them that everything would be OK, no matter what happens to him. But he made no promises to Alyssa. "You're not doing a person of that age any justice by saying, 'I promise I'll be back.' "
The girl he thinks of has strawberry blond hair and cheeks that flame when she's cheering. He has talked to her once since he left. "You could tell she was happy to talk to me, but it was this realization ... my Daddy's gone."
If he were to tell her about life here, he'd say, "It's like a rough version of our lives at home without the support of my family, without the laughter and mayhem of my family around me." Toast in the mess tent reminds him of home. Someone reading a book reminds him of his wife Kris.
"When Kris was sick there was so much fear involved," he says. "I was not prepared to lose my wife or be a single father. When everything seemed to get better, it was a little bit of relief, but it didn't catch up with me until I was leaving.
"Now, I don't think I'll ever look at my everyday life - if I have the opportunity to go back to it - in the same way."
Postscript: As of yesterday, Alyssa's dad was somewhere in southern Iraq.