SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – 25 Utah families joined the families of other US fallen service members on a fun four-day trip to Dallas aboard the Snowball Express.
Attention: Salt Lake City. Final boarding for the Snowball Express has begun.
Dozens of volunteers, supporters and well wishers gathered inside the Salt Lake City International Airport to wish Snowball Express families a happy and safe trip to Dallas.
“We’re going to Snowball Express, we get to go on this airplane and go to Dallas to spend a fun week down there,” said Kelsie Johnson.
Kelsie has been on the Snowball Express with her brothers 5 times. Her father was a US service member who was killed in action 8 years ago. To her and her brothers, this means so much to them because it shows that people care about her family.
The airport was turned into a holiday celebration this morning full on fun activities, holiday decorations, presents, and yes, even Santa Claus himself. The kids had the chance to play with dogs, take funny pictures with props at a photo booth, and enjoy delicious snacks as they waited to board the Snowball Express.
“Every year, Christmas time, we take about 1,700 families, children, of fallen soldiers since 9/11. We give them an expense paid trip to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. It’s a difficult time for these families at this point of the year and we try to make it better for them,” said American Airlines General Manager, Davey Pilley.
As the official airline of the Snowball Express, American Airlines provided the majority of the air travel, and all the flight crew. Hundreds of employee volunteers also donated their time to participate in the special program to prepare the terminal and give these families a wonderful sendoff.
The families will spend four fun filled days full of activities beginning with a Texas-sized welcome and a Walk of Gratitude honoring their sacrifice. They’ll be touring museums, attending concerts, and much more.
“There will be like ice cream, free ice cream and you can paint your face,” said Brayden Johnson, “And you can..you can also watch movies, and there’s, you can play Wii’s or X-Box or Wii-U.”
The families say they appreciate how much people care, and the amount of work that goes into making this a fun holiday season for them.
“It’s been 8 years for us, since my husband passed away, and just to know that people still care and to get to meet other kids that have gone through the same thing that my kids have gone through. It means a lot to them and a lot to me as a mom,” says Amy Tuttle, who is attending the Snowball Express with her children, Kelsie, Joel, Brayden, and Parker Johnson.
Salt Lake City Bees mascot Bumble was there to make the kids laugh, dance around the terminal, and even sitting on Santa’s lap. A final goodbye from the pilot, these families can’t express their gratitude enough for America’s heroes, as the Snowball Express finally took off.
“So, we can remember all of the people that serve our country. So we can be safe and free so we can do what we want,” said Joel Johnson.