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Snowball event brings smiles: NCOA hosts survivor families

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Laura Benton, center, and family enjoy a Snowball tailgate event held by the local Non Commissioned Officers Association at the U.S. Air Force Academy vs. Army football game Nov. 4, 2017 at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado. 
Benton and other families who had loved ones die while on active duty are hosted in these events, leading up to the national Snowball Express event held in Texas each year. All Snowball events aim to let families, especially children, know they are not forgotten and to connect them with families in similar situations to now they are not alone.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

UNITED STATES AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Laura Benton, center, and family enjoy a Snowball tailgate event held by the local Non Commissioned Officers Association at the U.S. Air Force Academy vs. Army football game Nov. 4, 2017 at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado. Benton and other families who had loved ones die while on active duty are hosted in these events, leading up to the national Snowball Express event held in Texas each year. All Snowball events aim to let families, especially children, know they are not forgotten and to connect them with families in similar situations to now they are not alone. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

UNITED STATES AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The local chapter of the Non Commissioned Officers Association hosted a Snowball tailgate event during the U.S. Air Force Academy vs. Army football game Nov. 4, 2017 at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., for families of military members who died while on active duty.

The NCOA tailgate event is one of several held throughout the year leading up to the national Snowball Express XII, Dec. 9-13, 2017 in Dallas, Texas. The group hosted a similar event earlier in the year at a Colorado Springs Sky Sox baseball game Aug. 21, 2017 at Security Services Field, Colorado Springs, Colo.

“The NCOA cares about this because it shows the surviving families that they are not forgotten,” said Master Sgt. Gerald Morey, 561st Network Operations Squadron first sergeant. “Losing a loved one to war is not easy growing up with. If we as an organization can take those moments away for a minute and switch it into a day of fun and joy then we're doing our part.”

Laura Benton attended both events and said they are beneficial to the healing process. She buried her husband, Navy Chief Petty Officer Kevin Benton, in Arlington National Cemetery in November 2016. Her daughter Gabriella is three-years-old.

“The events helped me to get out of the house,” she said. “It’s really good for families like us, because we get to meet other families like ours.”

For example, Benton said she met another military wife who lost her husband two years ago. The two connected and will stay in touch.

“For the kids, they get to meet other kids like them, who are without a parent and know they aren’t alone,” Benton said. “Meeting kids like them let them know they are still normal.”

She was unsure about attending her first event, but it got her out of her shell, she said.

“The NCOA is doing a great job, whether they know it or not,” said Benton. “And they really spoil the kids.”

Several families representing Air Force, Army, Navy and the Marine Corps attended the regional event. Some, like Benton, travelled from the Denver area to take part. The families were plied with games, gifts, food and fellowship on the day, including a brief appearance in the end zone during the game.

“The feeling is full of excitement and joy,” Morey said. “From the organization to the parents, all the way down to the children, seeing the joy, smiles and happiness from the families during this events is priceless.”

For more information about Snowball Express visit: www.snowballexpress.org

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