DFW INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (CBSDFW.COM) – There was no snow on the ground at DFW Airport Friday, but that didn’t stop the Snowball Express.
It’s the all-expenses-paid Texas-style weekend for the spouses and children of military personnel killed in the line of duty.
This year they arrived from 75 cities across America, as well as from Germany, Guam, and the Philippines. “A mission like Snowball really puts things in perspective. Really makes you think about our freedom and what’s important,” says Captain Jim Palmersheim, a board member and American Airlines Pilot. He flew one of the 11-chartered jets donated by American and American Eagle. “We had been granted special use of the call sign ‘Snowball 4,’” he says of the name ID the aircraft used when contacting regional traffic centers.
That gets the attention of controllers. “When we explain we’re carrying the families of fallen service members, to a ‘t’ there’s a pause…because on the other end of that radio call, there’s a reflection. We get just a profound sense of pride as they say, ‘Snowball 4 cleared to flight level such-and-such or cleared direct such-and-such…and please on behalf of everyone at the service center tell those families that we appreciate what they do for all of us.’ That’s when you realize that this program I so important because of the sacrifices of those that are not coming home this Christmas.”
Greyhound Corporation, Sheraton Hotels, and Neiman Marcus join American and others in helping make the weekend run. Activities include a Mesquite Rodeo, Six Flags, private concerts with ventriloquist Terry Fator and CBS actor Gary Sinise with the Lt. Dan Band. Most services are donated.
Hundreds of people volunteer their services. Sydney Phillips is one of the volunteers. Now a retired flight attendant, she remembers helping fly troops to Kuwait in the first Gulf War. “I’m here because I care,” she says of the Snowball Express. “It’s just something that warms your heart and gets you all teary-eyed if you start thinking about it and when these kids come in they’re just big-eyed and excited.” She adds, “It’s just a very, very good thing to do. It’s giving back to the community and giving back to the country.”
The efforts are appreciated. Angela Kang and son Zane arrived from Maryland. “It’s not hard like in a bad way, but it’s hard…it made us both, like, welled up with tears a little bit, it meant a lot to see people really cared about us, and cared about what we’d been through.” Zane is a big fan of the rodeo and a Kids Zone. “ It’s really fun, it’s really fun being on the Snowball Express,” he says. Like the Kangs, Michelle Raker and son Conner are also from Maryland, and all are participating in their second Snowball Express. “I love Texans, they are a patriotic bunch,” says Michelle. “You know, it brings me to tears, the people are wonderful, there’s so much support for the children and for everything they lost.” She adds, “I’m just amazed and thankful.”
While many services are donated, the Snowball Express also accepts cash contributions. You can learn more about this 501(c)3 organization at www.snowballexpress.org