The brave men and women of our armed forces proudly protect this country and fight for our freedoms while making the ultimate sacrifice.
We all too often forget that these incredible soldiers put their lives on the line. They leave their families and don't always make it back home to their loved ones.
For many of these fallen heroes, they leave behind a child or a spouse, creating a family left to live with the loss of their father, mother, husband, or wife.
The Snowball Express is an organization available for those children who have lost a parent while on active duty since September 11, 2001. The organization annually hosts a huge extravaganza in Dallas, Texas for a chance to spend time with those in similar situations and make new and exciting memories.
The Kansas City Chiefs with Mike DeVito help the children of fallen soldiers depart for a holiday party in Dallas TX.
On Thursday morning, the group gathered at Kansas City International Airport (MCI) for a sendoff party before boarding the plane to Dallas for the weekend.
"The sendoff party is a chance to honor and give back to those families who have lost someone at war," Chiefs defensive end Mike DeVito explained. "If there's anybody that deserves this kind of treatment it's these kids and these families. The sacrifices they have made for us to have our freedoms is unbelievable. I'm so grateful to be a part of this and be able to spend time with these families who have gone through so much."
The group mainly consisted of mothers and their children, many of whom wore T-shirts or photo buttons with their father or husband's photo printed on the front.
"Six years ago, my husband, Rob Yllescas, was captain and he was deployed to Afghanistan," Aldena Yllescas-Johnston, a member of Snowball Express, explained. "He was doing a lot of things in the community and began gaining some respect from the community, which made him a threat."
"The Taliban targeted him and detonated an IED near him. He lived for 34 days after that. My oldest daughter was 7 years old and my other daughter was just a baby. Rob was flown back to the states and me and my oldest daughter were able to say goodbye before he passed."
Yllescas-Johnston is extremely grateful for the Snowball Express and the opportunity it has provided for her children.
"This makes all of us feel so special, the kids look forward to this event every year," Yllescas-Johnston said. "For the most part, many people don't know what these kids have gone through, so the sendoff party and the entire weekend is a great way to make them feel special. Plus, it surrounds them with others who are in a similar situation; they don't have to feel different. On a daily basis, I know my kids are moving forward, but it's never the same for them and this weekend makes them so happy."
When the group arrived at the gate, Santa Claus was there to greet them with presents in hand. They received signed military-themed Chiefs hats from Mike DeVito, along with breakfast and apple cider from MCI.
"This helps gives some reprieve to these kids and is a great way to show these families that they aren't forgotten. We all want to support them," Timothy Wulff, Garrison Commander at Ft. Leavenworth, said. "What's really special to me is that the army has a great outreach program, but it means even more when others want to help and support these families. To have the Chiefs and other organizations supporting these families means a lot."
To learn more about Snowball Express, or to find out how you can get involved, visit their website.