Not All is Lost in War

Not All is Lost in War

Not All is Lost in WarThe cold, brisk wind of December in Dallas attacked my body that was wrapped in a winter’s coat as I stepped out of my vehicle, ready to seize the not-so-ordinary work day ahead of me. A mist filled the air, kissing my cheek with coldness as harsh as death. You see, death was the reason I was here in the first place; yet, this was a place of happiness.

Through the wetness of the morning, a huge American flag flew proudly between two raised fire truck ladders, as each step glowed the color of red— the color of blood—the color of ultimate sacrifice, creating a welcoming canopy big enough for vehicles to drive under. In the background, thousands of people huddled together, most clutching hot cups of coffee in an effort to find just a touch of warmth, some in small groups, chatting and smiling, others alone in the coldness. American flags in an array of sizes were held by most within the group. Hand-made signs with messages addressed to the visitors, who were soon to arrive on the scene, danced as the wind took them into its grasp. A hum of laughter and good cheer could be heard by passersby.

The time had finally arrived.

A motorcade of charter bus after charter bus, filled with children and either their mom or dad, escorted by The Patriot Guard Riders and the local police and fire department, began to pour into the area, first going under the ladder-made canopy, and then driving through the crowd of people who had formed the Walk of Gratitude cheering, clapping and waving to passengers. Small hands waved back from fogged up bus windows that had been wiped, and huge smiles could be seen on their faces while tears welled up in the crowd’s eyes and rolled down rosy-red cheeks, mine included.

This was the introduction to a day filled with fun and laughter for the children and the spouses of our nation’s fallen military heroes.

Snowball Express – A Charity Honoring Fallen Heroes’ Children

Similar to “The Polar Express,” except airplanes and charter buses are used in lieu of a locomotive, Snowball Express started as a grassroots effort in California when a local newspaper printed a letter from a soldier serving in Iraq—the last letter that his wife would receive because he was killed during active duty. In the letter, the man asked his wife to keep their promise of taking their kids to Disneyland. The community came together for this family by donating airplane tickets while Disneyland donated their theme park, complete with hotel stay.

From this single instance, an idea was born to honor other families who were facing the same challenges: the loss of a spouse and a mom or dad, maybe even both parents.

Taking the reins of the sleigh as Executive Director of Snowball Express was Buck Kern, who had in the past lead a multibillion dollar company. As a strong leader and with Disneyland moving on to other charity projects, Kern marched into the Veteran’s Initiative Director’s office of American Airlines, armed with videos of fallen military heroes’ children at Snowball Express events having fun, some for the first time since the loss of their parent.

Since that day about seven years ago, American Airlines has presented Snowball Express families with nine charter planes that fly all over the U.S., picking up children and their parents from more than 22 different cities.

So, just where are these children and their families going? To a place where “FUN” begins at the corporate level.

Children’s Host – Main Event Entertainment

As the children and their parents exited some 25 charter buses in the parking lot of Main Event in Frisco, Texas, thousands of people watched as children as young as 5 and as old as teenagers happily flooded toward the entrance of Main Event. Radio Disney blared music, and an announcer gave a red-carpetstyle welcome.

“Before you go in, take a look up in the sky,” the radio announcer said into the microphone.

Everyone looked skyward as the man in the red suit (Santa Claus) and two of his elves parachuted out of a helicopter, the last elf proudly flying the American flag. The magic of the holiday season became evident as astonishment spread across the faces of the children, and I was privileged to witness it.

While the children and their families poured into Main Event to warm up and embrace all the fun that awaited them, I was on a mission to find and interview the top man who was partially responsible for this event.

“I was approached about a year ago about Snowball Express and what they do,” explained Charlie Keegan, CEO of Main Event. “We are honored to share our ‘Eat. Bowl. Play.’ style of fun with these families. When the families are here, it’s just perfect.”

Main Event was so moved by Snowball Express that they sponsored the entire cost of this event, complete with three hours of free state-of-the-art bowling, billiards, laser tag and more than 100 virtual and interactive games along with salad, pizza and sodas. Even one of their vendors, Bonita Marie International, Inc., joined in on Main Event’s style of fun by supplying approximately 1,500 stuffed animals for the children.

America, the Beautiful

The harsh reality of losing someone special is devastating for anyone, but imagine being a child who will never have the chance to see, smell, hear or touch their mom or dad ever again, all because they died in the line of fire to protect our nation: America, the beautiful. Yes, some of our service men and women do pay the ultimate sacrifice, but so do their children, the promise of our nation’s future.

“A lot of kids shut down and stop having fun when they lose a parent,” explained Kern. “On the surface some folks see this event as a big party, and it is. It allows kids to be kids and to have fun during this time of the year.”

But, deep down, this event is more. It provides these children and their families with the opportunity to experience joy, friendship and communal healing amidst tragedy by connecting families who are experiencing similar circumstances in their lives. This connection allows children the chance to realize that there are others experiencing the same type of loss in their lives, which helps with the healing process. And, with the help of Snowball Express, Main Event and American Airlines, these connections that form into relationships will be fostered year after year.

“Our kids (referring to the ones Snowball Express supports) will never have a reunion with their mom or dad,” said Kern. “They will live without their parent or parents for the rest of their lives. It’s events like this that help remind the public that these kids and families are out there. They are our neighbors, and we should never forget they are there.”

I only stayed at the event for about an hour and a half, but those short 90 minutes truly enhanced my life, making me even prouder that I am an American.

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Security Today.

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