Snowball Express honors children of military heroes

By Matt Pederson | DFW Newsflash | Feburary 2017

Snowball Express Organization partnered with DFW airport to welcome children and their families from around the country for games and displays on Sunday, Dec. 11 as part of the annual Snowball Express, a week providing fun and cheer for children of veterans lost in combat.

“It’s awesome,” said Autumn Hedburg, an employee with American Airlines Passenger Services. “All year long, we plan for it. Basically, our little portion is just done here at the airport. We partner with the Snowball Express Organization. They handle coordinating the charters, the flights, and the tickets.

“In the early fall, there’s about six or seven of us here at the airport who kick around ideas for the theme. Usually we base it on a movie or something coming out that all the kids will know about, and we go on from there.”

Hedburg, who was in charge of volunteers, said they landed on a Hawaiian theme, a surprising yet fun backdrop for the activities in the terminal.

“Last year, we did a sports theme. Most of us who do the airport decorations have a separate department we work on, called the Honor Team, which handles deceased military movement through the DFW Airport. One of our team members said, ‘Hey, next year, how about we do a Hawaiian theme, because we have a lot of Polynesians who work here.’ There was this movie Moana coming out. It totally fit, and we went with that. We just wanted to do something a little different,” she said.

Hedburg spoke about her continuing support for the Snowball Express.

“It’s an awesome organization. Once their parent passes away, [if the family] lives on base, they only have a certain amount of time to leave the base. [The family’s] whole life is just turned completely upside down. This week is a week where they can all get together and have fun. Some of these kids grew up together, and [since the death of their parents] they usually don’t see each other, but they see each other here year after year, and it’s just awesome.”

Outside the airport terminal, the Patriot Guard Riders, volunteer bikers who partnered with the event, waited in order to provide a road escort for the children’s transport buses.

Boo, a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, spoke about his reasons for volunteering with the Snowball Express.

“I served in the Marine Corps,” Boo said. “Every child you see that gets on these buses has lost one or both of their parents since 9/11, and I just think it’s the right thing to do.

“I’ve known some of these kids from six years ago, and we get to watch them grow up. I met a few of them since they were little, and it always impressed me how mature some of them really are for such a small age.”

Grasshopper, another of the Patriot Guard Riders, spoke about his commitment to the children of the Snowball Express.

“We do the escort for the buses to the various activities, so we’re always with them,” Grasshopper said. “We go into the events with them and are always there to give them a helping hand. Just being with them and talking with them, it brings tears to your eyes. No matter how many times you do it, it always gets to your heart, knowing what these kids have gone through and what their loss is.”

Spencer Callahan and his mother, Jamie, were one of the families who came down for the Snowball Express.

“We’re from Fairbank, Alaska, and it’s always great to be here at Snowball where we have our extended family,” Jamie said. “Everybody here just feels like family, because we’ve all been through the same things. This is our fourth year coming. They always take care of us, and make sure that we’re taken care of. It’s always great to see everybody again, reconnecting with them year after year.”

Jaime went on to mention how thankful she was to everyone who hosted the event.

“We’re just so thankful for all the people who help put this on, for everything they do. From planning, to executing, all of it. It’s amazing that people would go out of their way and do that for families like ours, and we can’t express our thanks enough for that,” she said.