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Date: December 13, 2013
Event: Snowball Express
Location: LOOK Theater, Dallas, Texas

American Airlines and the CAF Red Tail Squadron combined forces to bring inspiration to the Gold Star Families at Snowball Express.

Attendance: Over 1,800 participants

Educational Outreach Visits – With 11 theaters playing the special RISE ABOVE movie, over 1,800 Gold Star Family Members enjoyed their RISE ABOVE Experience and received their inspirational dog tags.

It was obvious from the start that this would be a very special event for the Red Tail Squadron. From the moment we arrived at the American Airlines gate in Minneapolis, the gathering of support and festive decorations made it clear we were embarking on a mission unlike the others we see.

At the departure gate a group of local Patriot Guard Riders stood in a flag-draped arch, encircling a group of families who quietly and energetically busied their children with unwrapping the first of the many gifts that would follow.

These were the children of fallen service members who did not come home from war.  Bright-eyed children and their surviving parent who had accepted the invitation of a group of volunteers who numbered in the hundreds and perhaps thousands from around the nation and around the globe. Compelled by the desire to add some light into the darkness and grief these families had endured, this group of volunteers came from all walks of life and extended tremendous energy and creativity into an effort to bring a ray of hope for a brighter future to the children of the fallen.

High Fives, Hugs and Handshakes

Amazing volunteer effort to make these Gold Star families know they are appreciatedOur arrival at Dallas Fort Worth airport was even more exciting as we were greeted at the gate by dozens of volunteers dressed in purple shirts and Christmas hats accompanied by more flag waving Patriot Guard Riders. Entering the brightly decorated Concourse C, which had been transformed into the Land of Oz, the group began a journey down the yellow brick road into a kaleidoscope of colored balloon arches, brilliant scenes from the famous film and all the key characters. Now engulfed in a growing sea of purple shirts and PGR flag bearers it was quickly becoming apparent that we really weren’t in Kansas, (or Minnesota) anymore.

This was just one of a dozen flights from all corners of America and beyond heading to Dallas with these special guests. Destined for a very full week of activity, these 1800 visitors were gathering for what has grown into a vast community wide celebration of gratitude and recognition for the sacrifice they have shared with their family and our nation. Clearly designed with the children at heart, the Snowball Express has developed into a tremendous support vehicle to help guide these families into a new and brighter future.  A host of professional service offerings from grief groups to career counseling and assistance navigating the myriad support services available to these families was presented in some of the meeting rooms at the downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel complex. But the heart of this experience was focused on ensuring these children know their sacrifice is recognized, honored and respected by a grateful nation.

With daily activities ranging from kids room games and face painting, teen activities with concerts, sports, video and computer games, to NFL, NBA, WNBA, and professional race car drivers and other celebrities, there was hardly a moment to rest.  In celebration of their national effort to recognize these children Neimann Marcus stores opened a popup store within the Hyatt to allow the kids to “shop” for a special Christmas gift for their parent. With the aid of a personal shopper these children were able to give their mom, dad or grandparent a really special present, gift wrapped and donated by the fine folks at Neimann Marcus original Dallas location.

The Patriot Guards also donated personalized rider vests for each child and had their family photos taken posing on bikes.

Just one of the fourteen theaters that showed the Red Tail documentary in Dallas today. Over 1800 Red Tail dogtags have new homes tonight.Hosted by LOOK Cinema, we were gathered in the most spectacular movie theater complex we had ever seen.  Just finishing construction, this venue hosted all 1800 visitors and projected the expertly modified Hemlock Films production onto a total of fourteen screens on Friday.  The theater graciously allowed us to personally introduce this film to provide some background on the RTS to the enthusiastic audience. They were told about the triumphs and challenges of the Tuskegee Airmen. They were told about the Red Tail triumphs and how we overcame our challenges using the lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Each attendee was given a Red Tail dog tag as they entered the theater and we highlighted the guiding principles engraved on these dog tags in hopes of inspiring these families to use these as tools to overcome their challenges. We invited them to visit the website to learn more and to download the free iBook available at redtail.org.

The reception to the film was palpable and heartwarming. Families I spoke with afterword were deeply moved by the story of both the Tuskegee Airmen and our Project.

One family member told me a group of them had looked deeper into the Red Tail story afterword and were very grateful for our participation. “This is exactly the message we want our children to hear.”

Red Tail dog tags sparkled throughout the breakfast gathering the next morning.

We spoke with several kids who were eager to discover how they could learn to fly and we shared our information on how to search online for aviation scholarships.

This remarkable event gave us the opportunity to meet new friends and even visit with old friends. American Airlines team member Sue Lowe greeted us at the theater and stayed to assist in distributing Red Tail dog tags. Sue is the daughter of long-time supporter Burt Lowe. Sue shared news that Keenan Lowe had just been promoted to Captain on a major airline. Many will recall that a much younger Keenan had used his photo sitting in the Mustang as a High School graduation picture over ten years ago. Inspired by that experience to learn to fly, this is the culmination of that dream. We hope to hear many more of these stories as a result of the Red Tail participation in the Snowball Express.

The incredible logistics required to put this together was noteworthy and amazing. The gratitude and appreciation from the families was touching. The stories and the emotions of the event were at once inspiring, heartbreaking and gripping. The vast community outpouring of respect, appreciation and volunteerism was overwhelming.

The Snowball Express relies on word of mouth to spread their message among families of eligible service members and provide this experience to the families at no cost. Please share their incredible story by learning more at www.SnowballExpress.org.

To see photos of this and other events please visit our Facebook album.

Submitted by Stan Ross.

©CAF Red Tail Squadron 2013

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