NORFOLK, Va --
More than 300 U.S. service members from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, and members from surrounding military installations and the Virginia Patriot Guard escorted Gold Star families as they departed on their all-expenses paid trip to Dallas as part of the Snowball Express, at Norfolk International Airport, Virginia, Dec. 11.
Since 2006, the Snowball Express has sponsored four-day trips for children of fallen service members and their guardian. The trips allow the families to enjoy activities such as sporting events and amusement parks, while meeting and spending time with other Gold Star families from around the world
“Snowball Express focuses on the children who are grieving after losing a parents, while they were serving active duty in the military,” said Rochelle Crockett, Survivor Outreach Services support coordinator. “We have events like this to support the kids and let them know that we too remember their sacrifice. That’s all they want is just to make sure people remember what their loved one did for them and for us.”
According to U.S. Army Col. Ralph Clayton III, 733rd Mission Support Group commander, the service members escorted Gold Star families through the airport and sent them on the flight to show their support and thank them for their sacrifice.
“We have a responsibility as service members to ensure that those families, whose loved one paid the ultimate sacrifice, are never forgotten,” Clayton said. “When we say family, that’s what we mean. They’re always a part of our service and our family.”
The Snowball Express not only allows Gold Star families to bond but to enjoy time away from the grief and stressors that they may be dealing with at home.
“My husband Daniel always loved the holidays, so it was hard for us to enjoy them again after we lost him in 2011,” said Nilda Quintana, a Gold Star family member. “My daughter Adriana never got to meet her father, and it’s been hard to deal with the holidays in the past. The Snowball Express came along, and they do stuff for the kids. It is very uplifting as a parent to see what they are trying to do for your kids, so they grow up knowing they are never alone.”
Throughout the four-day trip, families experienced a balloon release at the Fort Worth Stockyards Station, Texas, a performance by Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band and many other surprise events before returning to the local area.
Upon arrival to Norfolk International Airport, service members lined the airport corridors to welcome the families home.