I had the distinct pleasure and honor of spending yesterday morning in Ft. Worth, Texas in the “Walk of Gratitude” greeting the spouses — mostly widows — and children who had taken the Snowball Express to Texas.As King 5.com reported, “Nearly 1,700 kids and spouses of fallen troops on Saturday took off on the Snowball Express, headed to Dallas for a few days of holiday fun. The trip reconnects kids with friends who know what they’re going through.
“You build friendships and relationships with people and you don’t always get to see them so this is a time when you can maintain friendships throughout the year,” said Morgan Burkett.
“When you look around the room and see all these mothers and fathers that shows you how many soldiers have died for our families,” said Ro Hicklin, survivor outreach services coordinator. “It’s so nice to know that the sacrifices that we went through are not forgotten,” said Teresa Maggert.”
To be able to lend a welcome smile to these families is the most inexpensive gift of the Christmas season — the simple gift of love and caring. We honor those who have given the last full measure of devotion through their ultimate sacrifice for our liberty.However, we must never forget the loved ones who have sacrificed as well, especially the children who will miss their beloved parent. We must not forget their loss and even though it can never be replaced, we must strive to let them know that our loving arms embrace them as our own.
The mission of Snowball Express is not complicated. It “ exists to fulfill a promise of hope and new memories for the children of fallen heroes. Over the past decade, true American Heroes, the men and women of the United States Military and their families, have made and continue to make extraordinary sacrifices to protect our freedom. That’s why we started Snowball Express. Each year with the help of our presenting sponsor, American Airlines, and our other wonderful sponsors and volunteers we are able to bring together children of our fallen military heroes from all over the world for 5 days of making new memories and honoring their parent’s sacrifice.”
This Snowball Express continues here in the Dallas metroplex area until Tuesday evening and the families fly home on Wednesday. You can come out and show your support at the respective venues, or find it within your heart to make a donation for next year’s event.Watching these kids see how much they’re loved was special. They took over the Ft. Worth Museum of Nature and Science and later got a special free concert courtesy of Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band. Sinise is the embodiment of an American Patriot.
But in all of this joy were two issues I must share with y’all. My escort at the event expressed to me concern about the safety of the families. I asked why there wasn’t an even bigger crowd — and that was his response.The concern was that an open public notification about the Snowball Express “Walk of Gratitude” – with some 40 busloads of families — has the potential of bringing out, as he called it, “crazies” who would protest and do something negative.
Folks, I am incredulous at the belief that anyone in America would come out and take an adverse position towards spouses and children who have lost their loved ones in service to our nation. I am reminded of marches where individuals shouted “what do we want, dead cops, when do we want it, now” and “pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon.” If those people could march and be protected under the First Amendment right of free speech, regardless of how repulsive, how could anyone have a security concern for those who carry forth the hurt of losing their loved one?
Ask yourself, what type of nation have we become where people can freely march and espouse such hate-filled rhetoric towards our law enforcement officers — yet we fear for the children of the fallen? I wonder how many people along the I-30 route knew who it was riding in the convoy of school buses from the Dallas’ Hilton Anatole to Ft. Worth?
We can do better America, and next year, when the Snowball Express lands again in Dallas/Ft. Worth, let’s come out for them because these spouses and children are our national champions.
The second issue of concern for me is the plight of one Barbara Allen and her four sons, who live in Otisville, New York. I knew of Ms. Allen’s travails, but never looked into her eyes and put that face with the story. She captured that story in a book she wrote in February 2011, Front Toward Enemy: A Slain Soldier’s Widow Details Her Husband’s Murder and How Military Courts Allowed the Killer to Escape Justice.
Perhaps you recall the case, as described by the book summary: “June 7, 2005, a sandstorm obscured what light lingered in Iraq’s nighttime sky as Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez tied a claymore mine to a window grate. On the other side of the window Lt Louis Allen, a husband and father of four young boys, and his good friend and Commanding Officer Captain Phillip Esposito, a West Point graduate and father of a baby girl. The men were engaged in a board game, unwinding after a hard day, when without warning the window exploded; 700 steel ball bearings erupted from the mine and hurtled inward with lethal force, obliterating everything in their kill zone. Martinez was arrested and tried for the murders. But the military judicial system failed, and the killer was set free.”
It is unconscionable how the U.S. Army can find a way to sentence a Texan, 1LT Clint Lorance, to jail for twenty years for killing the enemy. The Army can withhold exculpatory evidence in the case of 1LT Michael Behenna, and sentence him to prison. The Army can delay and bungle its way along in the case of known deserter Bowe Bergdahl.
But in Barbara Allen’s case, could screw this up so badly that not only must she live with the loss of her husband who was serving our nation, but know that his killer walks free. And I didn’t ask Ms. Allen, but of course I wonder if LT. Allen was awarded the Purple Heart and if his family has received full benefits? Regardless, the travesty of justice here has to be made known and something must be done for Barbara and those four young men she’s raising.
In closing, this is just an example of what these presidential candidates should be doing and learning about. It amazes me how folks want to be “commander-in-chief” but have never wanted to put their own skin in the game to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.”
The action I took in Iraq was because I made a promise to the families of my soldiers at the pre-deployment brief at the 4th Infantry Division chapel back in early 2003. A promise to me is sacred, a bond.
And when I stood there handing out cookies for those family members, it wasn’t just a cookie I was giving — but my heartfelt love. I had the privilege of walking among heroes for twenty-two years of my life — men like those who are no longer with the families who attended this year’s Snowball Express.
I walked with their heroes, and the least I could do, what all of us can do, is stand for them during the “Walk of Gratitude.”
I wish y’all a very blessed and Merry Christmas, see y’all next year.
Steadfast and Loyal.