LaShondra Adams, 18, sat quietly listening to her music in the airport. With earbuds shutting out the noise from the outside world, the lanky Copperas Cove High School senior had her knees pulled up in the chair as if separating herself from everyone else.
It’s a difficult time of year for Adams and her siblings. It’s another Christmas without their father, a soldier killed in combat Sept. 6, 2004, when he drove over a roadside bomb in Iraq.
“(My dad) taught me how to read in English,” Adams said. Her native language is German. Trying to move on with her life, the straight A student would like to become a veterinarian.
Adams’ sister, Savannah, 11, bears the pain of losing her father on a lesser level. She was only 3 when he died.
“I do remember Dad would tear the bottom of his shirts off and wear them,” the Cove Junior High sixth-grader said. “He was a football player.”
The family was ready to board the eighth annual Snowball Express, a charter flight from Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport to Dallas on Dec. 12 for families of fallen U.S. troops.
The families spent an all-expenses-paid weekend in Dallas seeing the sites, attending events, and being honored for the sacrifices they made for the country.
Temja Adams said the Snowball Express gives her children an outlet for their emotions. “It makes it easier for them to cry and (the trip) took a lot of pressure off the kids,” she said. “They were very unhappy the first couple of years and these trips really seem to help.”
For the Fernandez family, the death of Staff Sgt. Daniel Fernandez, a 17-year veteran of the Marines, carries a stigma.
“No one wants to tell my story,” Domenica Fernandez said. “My husband died by suicide. (The military) has a technical name for it, but he put a gun in his mouth and shot himself.”
Daniel Fernandez took his own life Aug. 3, 2012, leaving behind a wife and two children, Danielle, 15, and Robert, 12. The staff sergeant was a Marine recruiter at Copperas Cove High School. His daughter is now in high school. She looked forward to her trip on the Snowball Express.
“I get to reunite with a lot of my friends I’ve made through these events and talk about our feelings,” Danielle said. “I don’t just break down over little things anymore, but I do still cry over emotional things.”
Domenica Fernandez said the trips on Snowball Express are important for her children.
“Going to Snowball — this is their therapy. They can share everything,” she said. “One hug and everything is better because they understand. It’s a reminder that Christmas is about family, not about gifts. It’s about the memories of their father.”