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Snowball Express is an annual event that flies in about 1,500 children and several hundred parents in into Dallas just before Christmas.  The only rule is the children must have had a parent killed while serving in the military.  This was my first year volunteering to help out at the event.

My diary below --

Saturday afternoon, 4pm CST

Heading into Dallas for two days of volunteering with Snowball Express. American Airlines has flown in for free about 1,500 children who have lost a parent to the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. A cause this good is about the only thing that could get me to voluntarily revisit the Chuck E. Cheese phase of parenting, but for something this important a couple of frantic days up to my ears with a couple of hundred, hopefully excited little kids is just fine.

Sunday morning, 12:30 am - Central time

It's 1230, and Night 1 at Snowball Express is over. Arrived a couple of hours early, figuring they could put me to work or I could find a spot to lounge around, instead got to go backstage for one of the early shows. Gary "Lt. Dan" Sinise, of Forrest Gump & Apollo XIII fame, fronts the "Lt. Dan Band" which has gone around the world entertaining our troops for the USO. Got to see his show from 10 feet off stage left, while he rocked out to about a thousand people.

Pretty cool.

Some kids formed a "conga" line and snake danced through the auditorium while the band blared some Stevie Wonder tune. In some places, the kids and parents were having a blast. And, in others you'd see groups of people hugging overcome with emotion. After, 45 minutes I had to excuse myself as I watched some mother get comfort from her children. The one rule that they drilled into every memo that was sent out over the past month was no matter what you faced, you had to maintain a happy face, because the kids were there to have fun and to forget. So, when I felt my eyes getting involuntarily moist, I headed out and found a deserted Men's room where I composed myself.

Headed down to "Kid's Corner" where we were going to entertain about 500 kids, ages 5-10, for a few hours. Met the rest of the volunteers, including a very nice man who had been a defensive lineman with the Cowboys. Figured, I couldn't hold it against him becaue you don't control what team drafts you and while it might be momentarily enjoyable it wouldn't be right to tell him, "Hey, the Cowboys really suck", but I showed restraint...........for the children.

They gave me a choice of where I could work so I was running the "video" room - where I had between 40-75 kids, ages 5-10, watch "Santa Clause 2" and a "Charlie Brown Christmas" - all while enjoying an unlimited supply of Mike & Ikes, Hot Tamales, high sugar flavored applesauce, soda and pizza. There was great potential for mayhem once the sugar kicked in, but it wasn't a bad gig. Some of the kids, were isolating themselves and asked them if they wanted to sit closer to the action, but didn't apply any pressure. And, had the interesting experience of having to pull up the fly of a special needs child who couldn't do it himself. Also, did a stint hanging with a heavily retarded (I have no idea what the currently acceptable phrase is) while his sister ran out for a bit of fun. He showed me some affection by whacking me on the back hard a few times, but it was all good.   After that, went back to making occasional "rounds" making sure no one was going to end up in stitches or a cast.  When it hit me - every one of these 50 plus little kids had had a parent shot, blown up, burned to death or otherwise destroyed by the wars.  Clarity can truly blow at times.

As we neared the end also had to great pleasure of firmly, diplomatically and forcefully telling one of our younger volunteers that if she touched the room lights or made a move to shut down the projector before the end of a Charlie Brown's Christmas, I would tear her a new one. Diplomatically, politely - but I made sure she knew where she stood. I don't care what time we're officially supposed to shut down, you can't shut off Charlie Brown before his sorry Christmas tree has a chance to redeem itself and glory in the spirit of Christmas and a happy ending. Odd fighting words from a Jew, but come on a Charlie Brown Christmas is universal.

Once Charlie Brown had his happy ending, along with a few other volunteers, had the room - which was unsurprisingly a bit of a shambles - put back in decent condition in quick order.

And now, I collapse so I can get up again in 5 hours and do it all again.

Sunday, 3pm Central Time

My Day 2 at Snowball Express is done. For once, the Tollway south downtown was smooth sailing, instead of backed up traffic. All I have to do is limit my trips to Dallas to early Sunday mornings and I'm good.

Arrived at the Hyatt and learned enough from last night to not hang around Kids Corner waiting for them to get going. Took advantage and went upstairs and grabbed some breakfast with a Korean war and a pair of Vietnam vets. They were having some fun at one of the Vietnam veterans expense. Apparently, he lives deep in a rural area and just discovered internet dating in his sixties, having acquired a Cougar pen pal in San Diego where he was headed next week. Had some pleasant conversation, a quick breakfast and then headed back downstairs to "Kids Corner".

The line was already forming a half hour before admission. Today, instead of runnng the movie room I decided to get out and about. Fixed the air hockey tables so they were running fast (elbow grease and furniture polish does the trick) and ran a few Air Hockey tournaments. One girl, Megan, has a great future hustling money in bars playing air hockey and was dominating playing time on the tables - since usually winner gets to keep playing. After beating her four littler opponents by a combined score of 36-3, I challenged her to a game and established adult superiority, by the razor thin margin of 9-7. By punching her ticket, I was able to free up the table for more kids. I then went over and repaired the Ping Pong tables and taught a few kids how to play Ping Pong by the rules. Which they may or may not have enjoyed since it sort of departed from the whole mayhem and destruction theme. I was also temporarily adopted by a little girl named Ireland and we played with her stuffed Penguin. After that, I hauled a bunch of cases of apple juice and stocked the industrial sized fridge with a feisty Texas grandma. Tough, strong and you could tell almost immediately big hearted.

And so forth and so on as mayhem reigned. Had a better handle on my emotions today than last night, but still there were times you'd pause and fight off melancholy at some of the horror. Little things, odd things would bring it to the fore. A pair of sisters wearing t-shirts that said "Daddy's Girl" on the back and a picture of their father in fatigues on the front. A mother who drops her son off at the Kids Corner, where the son is literally bouncing with excitement, but the mother wearing a pin with her Green Beret husband's picture on it has the most tired eyes I've ever seen. Or a elderly volunteer relating to me the story of how one young girl had hugged her, because her perfume smelled just like the perfurme her mother used to wear, before she left for the war.

Finally, after 3 hours they had a rock band made up by some School of Rock wannabes play (not bad) they started shutting down the Kids Activity room around noon. Went upstairs and grabbed some lunch with an Executive Board member and his wife along with some volunteers from USAA. Nice people. The hallways were filled with kids having their pictures taken with superheros enough Star Wars characters to stock a Tatooine bar. Most of the people caught busses to the House of Blues for a Talent Show and while I was invited, but passed on because by then then I was cooked, as in put a fork in me I'd done.

Lying here now, desperate for a nap and reflecting on the past 24 hours, I'm struck but the kids and veterans I had a chance to get to know. I'm proud that I've done a small scintilla of good. Maybe easing some child or parent's pain for a few hours. And, I feel some pride in this community that has put itself out in such a major corporate and personal way to support such a wonderful endeavor. As a Lawyer or with Business people it is so easy to place outsized importance on the latest contract, or deadline or sales push or budget. But, it is so easy to forget that something as simple as a child's smile can be worth so much more.

I know all the good and bad reasons for our wars. Bastion of democracy. Leader of the Free World. The Greatest Nation the World has ever known. Jihad. Containment. The Global War on Terror. But the cost when measured in children's tears is so goddamn high. I just hope in the end it all has some meaning. And I look forward to the day when no one will understand why something as blessed as Snowball Express has to exist.

Originally posted to Movelikeabutterfly on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 07:26 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Glad to hear the kids had a good time (5+ / 0-)

    and you were able to help.

    On the flipside, Gary Sinise has long supported the causes of disabled military veterans, yet continues to support specific politicians (and their political party) which generally seek to minimize the needs of those same veterans.

    And, none of the reasons you cited in that final paragraph could objectively be described as "good" or even justifiable reasons for our recent wars, IMHO.

    "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

    by wader on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 08:11:06 PM PST

    •  Not justifying, not protesting (4+ / 0-)

      I'm neither justifying or protesting our involvement in the wars since 2001.  Ask 10 different people whether we should have gone to war after 9/11 or how we should have done it - you'll get 10 different answers all varying shades of gray.

      This isn't and wasn't about about the acts of our nation, or the Mullahs, Saddam or Osama.

      All I know is the families left behind need whatever help we can give without recriminations, without geopolitical perspective.  

      The only issue is what does our humanity require of us when it comes to these families who have suffered so very much?  

      •  I'm not asking 10 different people for their (0+ / 0-)

        opinions on this matter.

        You mentioned (emphasis added):

        I know all the good and bad reasons for our wars. Bastion of democracy. Leader of the Free World. The Greatest Nation the World has ever known. Jihad. Containment. The Global War on Terror. . .
        My opinion is that none of reasons cited (or offered outside of your list) were objectively good in the recent wars, for reasons you implied: those killed and the impacts to their families, is a starting point for accounting these results.

        So, since you brought up the topic of rationale to put people artificially through living hell, I responded on that point (among others) in my comment: these families should still be as whole as possible -  those who died fighting wars for the already-wealthy and vainglorious in political and economic command should never have reached that stage.

        Now that the deed has been done, I'm glad people do help - even hypocrites such as Sinise and generous people such as yourself.

        "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

        by wader on Mon Dec 16, 2013 at 04:16:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  You are cut from the cloth of goodness. (5+ / 0-)

    Yeah, I know.   You just did it because.....   But that's what makes the volunteers for events like this special.

    I don't know if I could get through it.  I'd spend all my time somewhere, crying and emotional.   (And I'm not a "crier" at all, even when it would help if I could do so.)

    Or I'd make it through the two days, smiling, and spend the next month or so suffering emotional flashbacks.

    Bless you for what you did, bless all the people involved.  May we all have strength to work for a time when all violence will be by accident.

    "Because inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened." -Terry Pratchett

    by revsue on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 09:33:46 PM PST

  •  And I look forward (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chimene, Dave in Northridge, wader
    And I look forward to the day when no one will understand why something as blessed as Snowball Express has to exist.
    And I look forward to the day when something as blessed as Snowball Express has no more need to exist.

    Wonderful diary, thank you.

    As through this world I've wandered,
    I've seen lots of funny men;
    Some will rob you with a six-gun,
    Some with a fountain pen.
    -- Woody Guthrie

    by Senor Unoball on Mon Dec 16, 2013 at 09:05:40 AM PST

  •  it's a very nice thing you did (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, Senor Unoball

    is there anything like this for civilian survivors?

    •  I'm sure there are - suggestion on how to find the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Senor Unoball

      Your best bet is to reach out to Veterans organizations and ask the question.  I'm not a veteran, but accidentally got involved with the Assn of the US Army through business networking (I moved down to Texas this year after being downsized up north - figuring with the better economy I could find work more easily).

      I would suggest contacting the Assn of the US Army, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars and ask some questions.  People are always happy to put volunteers to work or accept donations if it supports their efforts.

      And you'd be amazed at the myriad different ways you can help.  One local organization specializes in taking the wounded out kayaking or fishing - which can be amazingly restful to a man with PTSD.  Another, helps build and modify homes for veterans who are now physically limited.  

      Ask some questions and you will be amazed at just how quickly and creatively the will find a use for whatever talents you bring to the table.

  •  Ireland's stuffed penguin sounds cute. :-) n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, Senor Unoball

    "Really nice, but also very serious about his job." Jackie Evancho on President Obama 6/7/12

    by BarackStarObama on Mon Dec 16, 2013 at 01:55:46 PM PST

  •  Good on you.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    swampyankee, Senor Unoball

    You did a great service.    Like you, I hope for a time when such efforts are unnecessary.  

    The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis. - Dante Alighieri

    by Persiflage on Mon Dec 16, 2013 at 04:36:30 PM PST

  •  One nitpick, cuz it's DKos.... ;) (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Mentally challenged" or "special needs" is all you need to say.

    And it's an adjective, not a noun, since it's a person with the challenge.  

    You did a good thing allowing his sister to be a sister for a while and not a caretaker.  

    Thank you for YOUR service, by the way.  It's much needed.

  •  Thanks (0+ / 0-)

    What shouldn't be surprising, but is - is how easy it is to get involved with things like this.

    For years, I focused on my family, my house, my lawn, my friends, and there never seemed to be any extra time.

    Now, unfortunately, I've lost most of those things to the recession and the decision to relocate south.  

    That's been hard.

    And, I never went looking to get involved in my new community.  My interest was simply to get to know the people who could help me re-establish myself and get back to ideally a high paying job where I could drive a desk, push papers and sit in endless meetings.

    And, I still pursue that.  

    But, I also have become friends with Veterans and Rabbis and Pastors and good people of so many different varieties. I've helped out with the Rotary and their scholarship drives, the Assn of the US Army in providing services to the wounded, mentored startup entrepreneurs and so forth and so on.  

    You just sense a bigger horizon and a depth and color to the community that I never delved into before.  I regret not having done this sooner and 1500 miles away, but I'm glad I'm doing what I am now.  It really isn't that hard, other than the occasional sore back and emotional trauma, but that's a small price for what I've gained by getting involved.

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