Snowball Express 2009
Every December, there are numerous charity events, toy rides and volunteer events which consume the entire month. It always makes me feel so good inside to be able to give toys to the various charitable agencies for the local children who are less fortunate than I was growing up. As a child I never heard of these types of things and I assumed that every young child had the same type of Christmas as I did. Santa would come on Christmas Eve and put presents around the tree, drink my milk and eat my cookies. The next day I would get up to be in awe of “how good” I really was throughout the year. Now that I am older and wiser, I understand there are children in this country who were not as fortunate as I was growing up. It warms my heart to be able to be part of some of these massive toy runs in Dallas, TX and to see how excited the children get from one single toy.
This year has been no exception in the amount of toys, blankets, coats or angels needed for our city. With this economic downturn, more than ever people are in need. This year, the Snowball Express came to Dallas and I was fortunate enough to be part of it. It you are not familiar with the Snowball Express, please visit
www.snowballexpress.org to learn more or donate if you can spare anything. The Snowball Express is the charity for the children of our fallen military heroes. They started in 2006 with a simple idea: Provide hope and new memories to the children of our military heroes who died while on active duty since September 11, 2001. For the past several years this event was held in Los Angeles, CA.
So, you are probably asking yourself, “How exactly did you get involved with this and what does it have to do with motorcycles?” The answer is simple, I am an active participant in the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) and this year we were fortunate enough to be asked to escort the families and children of the Snowball Express while they were in town. From Wednesday, December 9, 2009 from the time they landed at DFW airport (courtesy of American Airlines) until they were taken back on Sunday, December 13, 2009, the PGR lead them throughout Dallas and the Metroplex.
You may be wondering who or what are PGR. The PGR was formed in 2006. Initially it was formed to shelter and protect the funerals of fallen soldiers from protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church who claim that the deaths of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are divine retribution for American tolerance of homosexuality. The PGR positions itself to physically shield the mourners from the presence of the Westboro protesters by blocking the protesters from view with their motorcade, or by having members hold American flags. The group also drowns out the protesters’ chants by singing patriotic songs or by revving motorcycle engines. The families of the deceased typically contact the PRG organization to escort the funeral procession from the funeral service to the cemetery.
I was able to sit down with Mike “Gunner” Lambert, Deputy State Captain of the North Texas Patriot Guard Riders. Mr. Lambert a United States Navy Veteran who served our country in the Vietnam conflict, has currently been involved with the PGR for 2 1/2 years. He has been overseeing the PGR’s involvement with the Snowball Express event held in Dallas. This years event has been in the planning stages for well over a year. The PGR has chapters from Oklahoma and Wichita Falls making their way down for this event. “This event is all about the children, it is not about us, so no matter rain, shine or what the tempetature is we will be out there. For some of these kids this is the only Christmas they will have this year.” said Mr. Lambert.
The Snowball Express has held the event in California for the past 4 years. In 2008 they had approximately 1,472 children, parents and loved ones. This year, with a goal of 2000 in mind, approximately 1,789 children and their families made their way to Dallas with the help of American Airlines, who provided air travel from all across the country on American Airlines’ own dime.
This years event held numerous activities including going to Southfork Ranch, the Mesquite Rodeo, Dallas City Hall, a Dallas Mavericks and a Dallas Cowboys game. I was fortunate enough to participate in the activities on Saturday, December 12, 2009 which involved escorting the families from Downtown Dallas to the Dallas Cowboys Football Stadium in Arlington, TX. The Children had a fun filled day with players from the Dallas Cowboys, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and enjoyed a performance by Gary Sinease and the Lt. Dan Band.
This was not just an ordinary escort for the PRG. With the temperature in the low 40’s and a misting rain, close to 230 motorcycles arrived to escort the 43 buses the 20 miles to Arlington. The elements would not deny these riders on that day. ” When those families stepped off the bus in the morning, waving and thanking us for being there, it became much more than a bike ride. Our focus completely changed, and no amount of cold or rain could dampen our spirits” said Darla Parsons, a PGR Rider.
Of course, none of this would have even been possible if not for the help from the Dallas Police Department and their motorcycle division. There was a Police escort the entire way and I-30 West was completely shut down for the 3-mile convoy.
Merely escorting the families to the stadium was not our only mission on that day. While the children and families were inside getting their faces painted, playing in the bouncing houses and mingling with the local celebrities, we waited outside for another surprise. When the families sat down for dinner on the stadium floor, the PRG once again brought smiles and laughter to the delighted faces of the Snowball Express families by roaring into the Cowboys Stadium and circling the field on our motorcycles. The PRG was the entrance for the Lt. Dan Band as they took the main stage and provided the grand finale.
During the final 2 hours, I experienced an event of a lifetime. While I do not consider myself of much importance, I was asked to sign footballs and t-shirts for children as they wanted to remember this day for a long time.
I met some very special children, like Nicole “Stormin'” Norman and Maddie Bancraft who became each others BFF’s over the four days. They wanted all the PGR riders to sign their shirts, because they both recently crashed on their “mini-bikes” so they felt a special bond with the bikers in attendance. I also got a chance to meet Leanne Ray and she was collecting
signatures on her football and thanking us for the escorts. I could not forget Miss Sydney Elizalde, who traveled all the way from Oregon and was just looking for a pink motorcycle to sit upon. Although we could not find one, she settled for a red one and even donned the maltese cross cap to prove she was a “biker” too.
This event put a lot of things in perspective for all of us in very different ways. While I never served in the Armed Forces, my father did. He was in the United States Army 11th Armored Cavalry and served our country in Vietnam. He is a dedicated PGR member and it always brings tears to my eyes when I see him get emotional at events like this. While many people thanked him for participating in the event, many more welcomed him home and thanked him for his service to our country. That means more to him than I will ever know, because for last 30 plus years since he has been back, those “thank you’s” have been few and far between.
Ken Parsons, a United States Airforce Major reservist, met a woman and her daughter and learned they were from a town in Massachusetts, near the base where Major Parsons has been stationed for the past 18yrs. Both she and her daughter had flown on the C-5 Galaxy out of Wesotver Air Reserve Base, to and from Germany where her husband had been stationed. The woman teared up when she realized that Major Parsons may have even flown her at some time or another, and both her and her daughter hugged him and thanked him. “That in itself made me forget about the cold and rain, and just how awesome this event is” said Major Parsons.
I have heard from a reliable source inside the Snowball Express organization that the event is planned to continue in Dallas for the next 5 years. I can only imagine how great this event will be next year and how much it will grow. Thank you, Jerry Jones, for opening your stadium to these children for the day and for allowing PGR onto your field. Thank you, American Airlines, for bringing these families to Dallas. Thank you, Dallas Police Department, Southfork Ranch, Mesquite Rodeo, Dallas Mavericks and the various busing companies and the local Independent School Districts for utilization of their buses. Last but not least, thank you, to the Patriot Guard Riders, who braved 16 degree wind chills on Wednesady, the day of the arrivals and the rain on Saturday.
If you have not hugged a Veteran, what are you waiting for? You cannot do it once they are gone. Welcome them home and thank them for what they do or have done for our country. Remember that freedom is NEVER free and the Partiot Guard Riders are standing for those who stood for us.
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.” Washington Irving
For more information on the PGR or how to get involved please visit http://www.txpgr.org/
Here are a few links to video taken of the event: