ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Five New Mexico military families are on the trip of a lifetime right now at Walt Disney World. It’s thanks to a special partnership honoring families across the country whose loved ones died serving the country.
The holidays can be especially difficult for grieving Gold Star families. The Snowball Express is a program designed to help bring these military families some holiday cheer.
“It’s a bittersweet moment for us,” said Melinda Frank, whose husband died while serving our country. “It means the world to know that these are some of the plans Curtis and I had.”
Frank and her son Brady Garcia are looking forward to the trip of a lifetime. However, it doesn’t come without remembering their lost loved one.
“We get a lot of ‘you’re lucky to go’ but our loved one had paid, Brady’s dad had paid a huge sacrifice for us to be here,” said Frank. “It’s because of him we get to go, but it’s sad because he’s not here with us.”
Army SSG Curtis Garcia died in September 2012, leaving his family behind. The holidays can be especially hard for Gold Star families like this one, grieving their military heroes.
“We lost him in September of 2012 and it just feels like it was yesterday,” said Frank. “Regardless of years, it’s so fresh.”
To help bring them some holiday cheer, American Airlines and the Gary Sinise Foundation are sending five New Mexico families on the Snowball Express for a fun-filled week at Disney World in Orlando. More than 1,700 kids of fallen military heroes across the country are also going on the trip, along with their surviving parent or guardian.
Sunport’s American Airlines team helped decorate the gate for their connection to Dallas and even had decorations all the way until the families were on the plane. They say it’s an honor to give back to these families who have sacrificed so much.
“Watching them, their eyes light up,” said Diana Canales, an American Airlines staff assistant at the Sunport. “We do these special decorations and make them feel special.”
A number of organizations came together to make this opportunity possible in Albuquerque. Sponsors this year include Fresquez Concessions, the Sunport American Airlines team, Sheraton Albuquerque Airport Hotel and FastPark. Additionally, local Gold Star and Blue Star mothers and the Patriot Guide were lined up with flags as the families made their way through the airport to security.
For Melinda and Brady, the Snowball Express is an opportunity to create new, happy memories during the holidays.
“Making new memories. That’s what it’s about and that’s what we’re excited about,” said Frank. “That he’s happy and smiling and enjoying himself.”
The Snowball Express departed early Saturday morning. The families will return to Albuquerque’s Sunport Wednesday afternoon.
The Snowball Express first started through the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2006 and has since grown and expanded. According to the foundation, at least two million American children have experience the deployment of at least one parent since 2001.