Special Event Honors Families of Fallen Heroes
The Phoenix leg of the American Airlines Snowball Express event was hosted by Sky Harbor once again this year on Thursday Dec. 9. What is the Snowball Express? Like the snowball effect, it starts out small, but as it moves it builds on itself, gathers momentum and grows in size and significance.
More specifically, Snowball Express is an event to provide the children of our fallen military heroes new experiences and positive memories. This year, American Airlines’ Snowball Express plane began picking up passengers on Dec. 9 in Sacramento, then picked up more passengers at each of its next stops in Los Angeles, PHX Sky Harbor and El Paso, Texas before reaching Dallas, its final destination.
“I look forward to this throughout the year,” said Al Sanchez, 16-year-old, who is a participant in the event for the third year. His 9-year-old brother William Gregory added, “It’s really cool, we get to do some things other kids never get to do.”
Everyone involved in the event seemed deeply moved by the experience. “It’s an honor to be a part of this,” said Michele Henry, American Airlines general manager at PHX. The snowball grew by 42 family members who boarded the plane in Phoenix Thursday morning. The Snowball Express was expected to be some 160 passengers strong upon arrival at its Dallas destination later in the day.
At Sky Harbor, families escorted by a number of Air National Guard members were treated to a buffet breakfast, holiday goodies, an up-close tour of their area of departure(see photo above right) and time to interact with Santa and each other.
Snowball Express is not only a series of special events to inspire holiday cheer, it may help family members to deal with their special circumstances. “Interacting with others in a similar situation is really good for the kids,” explained Lizeth Wong who was traveling to Dallas with her two children, 9-year-old Shai and 16-year-old Tonatiuh. “It helps them to see that they are not the only ones dealing with a loss,” she added.
For the Air National Guard members who volunteer to help the families during the event, it is a rewarding experience. “It’s a great program,” said Sfc. Stephen Lovato, “families interact with each other and create their own community. This is my second year participating in this event and I enjoy seeing how the kids have grown and changed.
“What they have experienced is a tough thing to cope with, so it’s good to see them having a little fun,” Lovato added.
American Airlines Customer Service Manager ML Brewer shared an especially touching thought. When she was a child, Brewer’s father did two tours of duty during the Vietnam War. “I remember a couple of Christmases when we didn’t have him home with us and I missed him so, so much,” Brewer said. “These children will miss their daddies like that every Christmas.”
Why is she participating in this event? “I do it from my heart and in memory of my father,” Brewer said.
Once in Dallas, the families participate in activities that provide many opportunities to interact with each other and most form lasting friendships.
Families are treated to special events including visiting Six Flags over Texas amusement park and Southfork Ranch, attending a performance of The Nutcracker, going to a rodeo and much more.
Click here for more information about the Snowball Express.
First posted: 12/9/2010