Brandy Jackson and her son, Michael Strom, talk with Santa on a plane as they join American Airline's 11th annual Snowball Express at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, an event for children of fallen military heroes. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Military families take flight on Snowball Express

By Ashton Goodell

SALT LAKE CITY — American Airlines Flight 9100 made a special pit stop in Salt Lake City Sunday to pick up some precious cargo. It’s the 11th annual Snowball Express, and the flight crew’s mission is to make sure military kids who’ve lost a parent have a Merry Christmas this year.

“It’s bringing tears,” said Antoinette Stapley, a military widow aboard the flight. “The emotions started a few days ago, knowing that we are going to go and be there.”

“I’ve met a lot of kids who’ve gone through the same situation as me,” said Nick Parr, a 14-year-old passenger. “This trip especially is really nice, because you don’t have to worry about explaining anything.”

Military families who’ve lost their hero spend a lot of time talking about the worst day in their lives. And though they connect over their shared experience, the Snowball Express is about making new memories.

“It makes them feel more normal when they are around other kids,” Stapley said. “That sounds weird, but they have a sense of normalcy knowing the kids have gone through something similar to what they’ve gone through.”

“It’s special to me because they are honoring my daddy,” said 9-year-old passenger Addie Funk.


Friends and family wave as an American Airline plane is backed out prior to takeoff for the 11th annual Snowball Express at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, an event for children of fallen military heroes. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Ten chartered American aircraft departed numerous cities — including Salt Lake City — to pick up nearly 1,800 children and spouses for an all-expense-paid journey to Dallas-Fort Worth area.

While there, the families will participate in a series of activities starting with a Texas-sized welcome, a tour of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, a night of jousting fun at Medieval Times and a private concert by Academy Award-nominated actor Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.

“They know that the holidays are hard, so they throw this little party for the kids beforehand — and it’s crazy, but it’s so fun,” said Jennifer Funk, Addie’s mother.

And though their dads couldn’t be there, together there’s a feeling of hope this holiday season.

Several kids have made the journey more than once and say they love it every time.

Source: KSL.com