Over 600 Gold Star Families were welcomed to Dallas Saturday evening for Snowball Express XII, a four-day event filled with fun activities for military families who have lost loved ones on active duty since 9/11.
Gold Star Families from across America have attended the event since 2006.
The non-profit organization partners with American Airlines and hotels in the metro to provide both lodging and airfare to families for free.
Over the course of those four days, families enjoy sporting events, amusement parks, and most meals at no expense.
This year, event officials say families will be honored during a parade in Fort Worth, will enjoy a wild west show, and have fun at Medieval Times.
Gary Sinise & The Lt. Dan Band will even perform.
The entire idea is to turn grief into fun, especially during the holidays when families miss their heroes.
For Gold Star wife Seana Arrechaga, coming to Snowball Express with her 9-year-old son Alston is like coming home.
Both have flown to the metro from Tennessee the last 5 years for the event.
“This has become our family in a sense,” Arrechaga said. “They don’t have to answer questions like, ‘why don’t you have a dad?’ Because everyone here is in the same boat.”
Seana’s husband is Sergeant First Class Ofren Arrechaga. He was killed in 2011 in Afghanistan when a three-day mission turned into a nine-day battle against Taliban forces.
That battle, known as Strong Eagle III, was the focal point of the documentary The Hornet’s Nest.
“Someone you said you were going to spend the rest of your life with, you know, how do you cope with them being gone?” Arrechaga said. “And then you add on the holidays, and it makes it worse.”
Not only that, Arrechaga says her husband’s birthday was just a few days before Christmas. She says that makes things harder, but finding strength with other families at Snowball Express helps.
“After the first few days, I knew this was a good place,” Alston said. “It’s really fun.”
For Arrechaga, enjoying time with her son is something she knows her husband would want.
“We’re representing him, and we’re doing it in a really fun way—I think that’s really special,” she said.