Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 3rd Class Katie Cox/DVIDS

All aboard the Snowball Express: Gold Star Families go to Disney World

December 10, 2018 - 7:38 am

NORFOLK -- Gold Star families were greeted by more than 325 service members at the Norfolk International Airport as part of the 13th annual Snowball Express, Dec. 8.

The Snowball Express sends eligible Gold Star children and their families on a four-day trip to enjoy fun activities, meet other Gold Star children and participate in remembrance events to pay tribute to their fallen family members. 

This year, the families were sent to Orlando, Florida as part of an all-expense paid trip to Disney World.

"This is their first time going to Disney World," said Melissa Biddle Black, a coordinator at Navy Gold Star for Commander, Navy Installations Command on Naval Station Norfolk. "When the Gary Sinise Foundation adopted Snowball Express as one of their programs," Gary Sinise said, "What better place to send these children than the happiest place on Earth?"

Volunteers greeted the Gold Star families as they entered the airport, carried the families' bags and guided them to the departing gate while surrounded by applauding service members.

"These kids have lost their connection to the military," said Black. "They don't know if anyone is going to remember their family member. When the Gold Star children see hundreds of active-duty service members from all branches of service welcoming them, honoring them and their sacrifice, it will have a tremendous lifelong impact on them. They'll remember it for the rest of their lives."

Over 200 Sailors from 22 various commands in the Norfolk area volunteered for the event.

"I think the turnout reflects the commitment of all of our military to know that we are part of something bigger than ourselves," said Rear Adm. Charles W. Rock, commanding officer of Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic. "It really is heartwarming to see so many people here."

Varshay Jack, a Gold Star family member, mother of four, and former navy nuclear electronics technician said she appreciates Snowball Express for allowing her family to have the opportunity to interact with other children in similar situations.

"Most kids they go to school with don't understand," said Jack. "So, being in a place with children just like them will make it easier to cope."

Service members will greet the Gold Star families at the airport when they return from their trip.

"I'd like to ask everybody to take some time in their own way to remember the sacrifices of all our fallen," said Rock. "They have friends and family members that have been left behind and we shouldn't forget them. We should continue to honor the fallen through their families."

Photos courtesy of DVIDS