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News: Snowball Express honors surviving military family members

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Snowball Express honors surviving military family members Courtesy Photo

Rachael Hall, 12, and her grandmother, Debbie Whitfield, of McKees Rocks, Pa., board their flight to Dallas for Snowball Express Dec. 12 at the Pittsburgh International Airport. They were supported by Army Reservists and federal employees from the McGarity Reserve Center in Coraopolis, Pa., Patriot Guard Riders, and American Airlines employees.

CORAOPOLIS, Pa. – Families of fallen soldiers participated in the Snowball Express event Dec. 12 starting in the Pittsburgh International Airport. Snowball Express is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide hope and new memories for the children and spouses of military members who fell since Sept. 11, 2001. American Airlines and American Eagle partnered with Snowball Express to fly nearly 1,800 family members from across the country to Dallas/Fort Worth at no charge.

Army Reserve soldiers and federal employee of the 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and the Army Reserve Careers Division, based out of the McGarity Army Reserve Center, Coraopolis Pa., along with members of the Patriot Guard Riders, and airline volunteers greeted family members greeted and welcomed the family members as they began the five-day, four-night journey.

"American Airlines took 10 planes out of service today to fly around the country to pick up families for Snowball Express," said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Ray Blust, a pilot for American Airlines and resident of nearby Wheeling, W.Va. Blust had volunteered to fly today for the program but there was a long list of others who also wanted to volunteer. "So I came up to support this," said Blust. "This is a great opportunity."

"It is very healing for (Daniel)," said Marilyn Adams, of her 12-year-old son. "Since there is not a really big military presence in Pennsylvania, he tells me he feels alone; he's the only one that this happened to but when he gets in that room of 3,000 families, he's just (excited)." Daniel, of Wexford, Pa., has found through these trips that there are others who have been through the same thing and can relate to him. Adams and her son have been to several of the trips in the past years.
The fallen represented in Pittsburgh included Sgt. 1st Class Brent Adams, Army National Guard; Spc. Robert Hall, Army Reserve; and Staff Sgt. Eric Holman, Army Reserve. Family members present were Rachael Hall, 12, and her grandmother, Debbie Whitfield, of McKees Rocks, Pa.; Misha Holman, 8, and his mother Terri, of Beaver Falls, Pa.; and Shaina Shaw, 16, and her mother JoAnn, of Warren, Ohio.

For the families at the Pittsburgh Airport, the treatment started with complimentary beverages and food, presents for the children around two festively decorated trees and a private tour. Ezequiel Boneta, a station agent at PIT, took the families to meet the crew before the flight and take a tour of the cockpit.

"Last year, we came out with soldiers, and we supported seven families of fallen soldiers who were going to Dallas on the Snowball Express," said Lt. Col. Owen T. Ward, of Fort Myers, Fla., Commander, 2nd Battalion, Army Reserve Career Division. Three of the four families were here last year. "It's nice for them to see we are committed to them and came back out."
"We are here to support them and encourage them," said Master Sgt. Lewis E. Parker Jr., Area Retention Leader, ARCD, of Suffolk, Va. "Every year, American Airlines sends them over to Texas to uplift their spirits during the holidays."

Because Pittsburgh does not have an active duty military post, soldiers from the Army Reserve represent the face of the Army to most local citizens, "I think it's important for the Army to be here because the soldiers expect their families to be taken care of regardless of what happens to them when they deploy." said Ward. "In this circumstance, these soldiers never came home to their families, so it's important there is still an Army presence and that their children understand that the Army's committed to them and their future success."

The eighth annual event, to be held Dec. 12-16, marks the fifth time Snowball Express has visited Texas. This year features a “Wizard of Oz” themed gate decorations, including a yellow brick road through the airport, Munchkin Land and a field of poppies; the red carpet treatment to the movie "Frozen" at LOOK Cinema along with unlimited games and entertainment; a "Walk of Gratitude" parade where families will receive a VIP welcome by the city of Fort Worth; a day at the zoo including a private concert by Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band; and the rock star treatment at the Texas Music Project and Talent Experience in the historic House of Blues followed by a grand finale show produced by David Hira Productions. For more information, visit http://snowballexpress.org/.


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This work, Snowball Express honors surviving military family members, by SPC Sophia Klevemann, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.

Date Taken:12.12.2013

Date Posted:12.13.2013 09:24

Location:CORAOPOLIS, PA, USGlobe

Hometown:BEAVER FALLS, PA, US

Hometown:CORAOPOLIS, PA, US

Hometown:FORT MYERS, FL, US

Hometown:MCKEES ROCKS, PA, US

Hometown:SUFFOLK, VA, US

Hometown:WARREN, OH, US

Hometown:WEXFORD, PA, US

Hometown:WHEELING, WV, US

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