Kirstie Alley ripped up the dance floor on the latest season of Dancing with the Stars. Here was my run in with her when she visited McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., when I was a news editor in the Air Force.
Senior Airman Robert Myers explains the refueling process from the boom operator’s seat to Golden Globe-winning actress Kirstie Alley. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Harold Barnes III)
Capt. Robert Gomez gives Golden Globe-winning actress Kirstie Alley a tour of the KC-135 Stratotanker maintenance hangar. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Harold Barnes III)
KIRSTIE ALLEY ‘CHEERS’ FOR MCCONNELL
by Airman 1st Class Harold Barnes III
22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
3/9/2004 – MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. (AFPN) — Golden Globe-winning actress Kirstie Alley crossed into the blue March 8 during her “wild ride” here.
She returned to her hometown of Wichita to raise money for the 1922 Orpheum Theatre with her show “Kirstie Alley’s Wild Ride” and wanted to visit one of the first places she worked — McConnell.
Long before she starred in “Cheers,” “Veronica’s Closet” and her upcoming TV movie, “Family Sins,” Alley was a base lifeguard.
The former lifeguard said the base was “mysterious” to her. Armed with a limited pass to and from the noncommissioned officer’s pool, she wondered what was going on outside the pool fence. Alley received some insight into Air Force life from family members who frequented the pool.
“This is my big chance,” said Alley who wanted to see a plane on her first visit back here.
Senior Airman Robert Myers, of the 344th Air Refueling Squadron, explained the in-flight refueling process to Alley.
“This was awesome. … It’s shocking to me that an airplane can do that,” she said. “I mean, they’re flying 400 miles an hour, and they’re refueling at the same time. … It’s unreal to me.”
Alley said she was impressed not only by the mission and aircraft, but by the professionalism and skill of the Airmen.
“The intelligence of the pilots and … people operating (the aircraft) has to be phenomenal,” she said.
KC-135 Stratotanker operators and Airmen from various squadrons shared their stories with her throughout the tour and gave her an idea of what life is like for Airmen today.
“I’m one of those people who’s extremely grateful we have defense,” she said. “We think about people who are in Iraq. We think about the (servicemembers) a lot in our family. I don’t know how you say thank you for protecting us, but thank you for protecting us.”
Airmen, retirees, spouses and even a girl named after the star lined up to get Alley’s autograph and photograph taken with her.
“When my mom read … she was coming here, I got to come here instead of going to school,” said Kirstie Montalbano, 13, daughter of Master Sgt. John Montalbano of the 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
The younger Kirstie said she always wanted to meet her namesake and said “it’s exciting.” She gave Alley a bouquet of roses and a teddy bear.
“I thought you could only meet famous people when you were deployed to the desert,” said Airman Jenny Mullins of the 22nd Maintenance Operations Squadron. “It’s really cool that she’s coming back to where her roots are.”
With two children, William True, 11, and Lillie Price, 9, Alley said she is contemplating moving back to her hometown. Her father, Robert Alley, was a former Navy submariner, and she welcomed the thought of a community infused with Airmen.
“I always felt … very safe with McConnell here,” she said. “I felt … defended, … and I still feel that way. It takes highly intelligent people to do the jobs you’re doing. So in my book, it’s sort of the cream of the crop.”
Kirstie Alley gave the Airmen here more than autographs and photos. She stirred a feeling of pride by letting them know they are appreciated and remembered in the daily lives of Americans, including celebrities.