AZ Gold Star Families take off for Snowball Express weekend

AZ Gold Star Families take off for Snowball Express weekend

Air Force Staff Sgt. Samantha Tellez from the Arizona National Guard’s 161st Air Refueling Wing does a crafts project with Lilly Walls while waiting for the Snowball Express Flight at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport here, Dec. 11. Lilly’s father, Army Cpl. Jonathan Wall was killed in action Aug. 1, 2009, in Afghanistan. (Photo by Spc. Wes Parrell)

PHOENIX – Children and family members of fallen service members departed from Sky Harbor Airport to Dallas for the ninth annual Snowball Express weekend, Dec. 11.


Snowball Express is a nearly all-volunteer nonprofit organization established in 2006 to bring hope and new memories to the children of military heroes who died in combat since Sept. 11, 2001. The all-expense-paid trip takes place through Monday, Dec. 15.


“Snowball Express gives children and surviving family members a chance to connect with other people that have experienced a similar loss,” said Mary Williams, past president of the Gold Star Wives, Inc., of Phoenix. “Although this is done once a year, the memories of this experience last a lifetime.”  


The terminal was decorated with traditional holiday fare where Santa Claus waited to greet the 41 Gold Star kids and family members. Service members from the Arizona Army and Air National Guard chaperoned the families during pre-flight festivities and gave thanks for the sacrifices.


“I have participated in this event for two years.” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Francisco Ledesma. “I do it for the memories and to do my small part in saying thanks to these great families.”   


Upon arrival in Dallas, the families will enjoy a variety of activities during their visit to the Lone Star State, including a red carpet special premiere of the movie "Annie;"a meet-and-greet with the stars of the Discovery Channel show "Fast N' Loud;" a tour of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science; a western cookout at the Sheriff's Posse Ranch in Weatherford, Texas; and a private concert by Academy Award-nominated actor Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.


“My husband John was a U.S. Army infantryman from 1996-2010,” said Wendi Jarrell. “This is the first year that our daughter Emma has been able to participate in this event. To see support and thanks that is being shown today is truly moving.”