Families of Fallen Heroes Invited to Sky Harbor for Special Event
The holiday season is a time to give thanks and reflect upon what we have. But for families of fallen military heroes, this can be a very difficult time of year. On Wednesday, December 9, 2009, American Airlines and the Snowball Express group held their annual Snowball Express event, which gives back to these families while honoring the loved ones that they have lost. It also provides the families a chance to create new memories together.
An American Airlines gate area at Phoenix Sky Harbor was turned into a Western Holiday Celebration complete with Santa, Elmo, and other special guests. There was laughter and a feeling of excitement in the air as Santa handed out candy canes and took pictures with the children. Attendees also enjoyed a Texas-style buffet.
The focus of the Snowball Express event is taking children and spouses of the fallen military on a weekend trip where they get to participate in unique and fun activities. This year, participants were traveling to Dallas where activities include a clinic with Dallas Cowboys football players and cheerleaders, a trip to the Dallas Southfork Ranch, where the famous Mesquite Championship Rodeo is held, as well as a celebration at the Dallas Convention Center, and the opportunity to attend a Dallas Mavericks game. Many children were looking forward to seeing the horses at the ranch or attending the basketball game.
American Airlines staff said that this is the second year that Phoenix has hosted the Snowball Express event. Staff also said that the number of attendees has more than doubled this year from 20 people at last year’s inaugural event to 43 people this year, including 15 families and 26 children. Nationwide, the event, which is in its fourth year, has 1,300 spouses and children coming to Dallas to share in this special celebration.
“This event is very important to us and to American Airlines,” Allen Harris, Interim Phoenix Sky Harbor American Airlines Station Manager said. “We want to let these families know how much we appreciate and understand the sacrifice that they have made for this great country, and we are so proud to be a part of this.”
Military service people from local bases were also on-hand to escort the families and provide support. Stephen Lovato, SFC, who is based at the Papago Park Military Reservation, is a first-time volunteer at the Snowball Express event. He heard about it through work and thought it would be a good opportunity to do something special for those who have been through a lot. “It is a very meaningful event to experience,” he said.
The event also featured 88-year-old Joe Kellwood, pictured above right, one of the few remaining Code Talkers. Code Talkers served in the US Marine Corps during World War II and transmitted secret tactical military messages in their Native American languages. Kellwood is a Navajo born in Steamboat Canyon, approximately 20 miles west of Ganado on the Navajo Reservation. He has lived in Phoenix the majority of his life, and was brought to the event by a friend who volunteers at his local VFW United 400.
The event ended in excitement as the children and their families boarded the flight bound for Dallas. When they return to Phoenix Sky Harbor, American Airlines and local volunteers will welcome them home.
American Airlines donates flights for this event, but there were also many other groups on-hand that made this event a success, said Harris. They were the National Guard, the Patriot Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, City of Phoenix Aviation Operations Division, the Gold Stars and the Blue Stars.
“We are really proud and happy with the results of the event,” Harris said.
To find out more about the Snowflake Express organization, visit http://www.snowballexpress.org.