PENSACOLA, Fla. -- The U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, welcomed 12 local families of fallen military heroes to the Pensacola International Airport here, Nov. 30.
Blue Angels team members signed autographs, presented each child with a personalized lithograph and spent time with the children in the USO center before the families' flight to North Texas to join more than 1,700 other children and surviving spouses.
"Snowball Express is a great organization that helps the children of fallen heroes deal with their loss by surrounding them with others who are dealing with the same emotions, all while showing them a fun time," said Fat Albert Pilot, Marine Capt. John Hecker, who lost his brother in Iraq Jan. 5, 2006.
Hecker said he hopes the Snowball Express event will help the families in their healing process as it has helped his family. It is important to him because of what he has seen it do for his nieces and nephew. Since the loss of his brother, they have been participating in Snowball Express, making friends with other children who are dealing with the same type of loss, and he said they look forward to it each year.
"We are lucky this organization offers such a great outlet for the emotional distress that accompanies such a traumatic event," said Hecker. "It by no means replaces the loss of a parent, but it can help with the healing process."
Hayley West, a Snowball Express participant, said she is excited about flying to Texas.
"I think this is a great way to meet new people and have the opportunity to hear their stories," said Hayley, 16, of Biloxi, Miss. "I respect this event a lot and it's a great honor to be a part of it."
Rhonda Breaux, Hayley's mother, said Snowball Express has done a lot to help her and Hayley communicate with other people who are going through the same thing.
"My daughter and I have been participating in Snowball Express for the past six years," said Breaux. "So, she knew at a young age that she was not the only one who was affected."
The Snowball Express event will take the children and their families to several events in North Texas including a trip to Six Flags Over Texas, a visit to the AT&T performing arts center and a private concert by Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band at Fort Worth's Billy Bob's, a renowned Texas honky tonk.
The Blue Angels team members regularly participate in community events similar to Snowball Express at their home base in Pensacola.
The mission of the Blue Angels is to enhance Navy recruiting, and credibly represent Navy and Marine Corps aviation to the United States and its Armed Forces to America and other countries as international ambassadors of good will. The team is currently in winter training and will begin the 2013 show season mid-March.