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Snowball Express provides adventures for children of fallen troops

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Even on little sleep and a long flight, nine-year-old Brooke-Lynn Hedrick was bouncy and gushing about horseback riding, a scavenger hunt and a neon light ball that she attended in Texas.

“I got to go horseback riding with a horse named Amigo,” she said, smiling as she recalled her favorite events from her weekend with the Snowball Express.

On Wednesday, she and other families of fallen military members returned from a special trip to Dallas-Fort Worth as part of the 12th Annual Snowball Express, a nonprofit that flies surviving families to Texas for several days of activities and fellowship with other surviving families. The trip, co-sponsored by American Airlines, provides the event for children of military personnel who have died since Sept. 11, 2001.

More than 1,600 children and spouses of fallen military members nationwide were part of this year’s Snowball Express. The flights were chartered from 11 cities, including Fayetteville.

The families visited a Medieval Times restaurant, saw a concert by actor Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Ban and were honored at a “Walk of Gratitude.”

The families, which left the airport on Saturday, returned Wednesday afternoon.

Kristen Hedrick, Brooke-Lynn’s mom, said she appreciated the opportunity to go on the Snowball Express for the second time with her daughter. They lost Jeremy Hedrick, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, in 2009.

The family had been living in Jacksonville while Hedrick was stationed at Camp Lejeune, but has moved away. Since they don’t live in a military town anymore, it’s harder for her family to relate to others, so Snowball Express gives them a chance to have fellowship with families that have also mourned the loss of a military member.

“This is something to look forward to so the kids don’t feel alone,” Kristen Hedrick said.

Mary Dudley said the event helps her children feel normal. They lost TJ Dudley, a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps, in 2011.

Her children sometimes get bummed when they go to school events and don’t have their father there while so many other children do, she said. This trip gives them a chance to spend time with other children who understand that loss, she said.

“I didn’t ever want them to feel alone or what they dad did wasn’t important,” Mary Dudley said. “They’re not the odd man out. Here, they can talk about how they feel.”

Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski can be reached at adolasinski@fayobserver.com or 486-3528.
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