Fabian Coria of Harker Heights was quiet as he awaited his plane at the Killeen airport. But he was smiling. This was not an ordinary plane ride. It’s the Snowball Express.
The eighth annual Snowball Express offered a charter flight from Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport to Dallas on Thursday for more than 20 Killeen-area families of fallen U.S. military. The families will spend an all-expenses-paid weekend in Dallas seeing the sites, attending events, and being appreciated for the sacrifices they made for the country.
Coria, 17, and his brother, Manuel Cabral, 11, lost their father, Sgt. Juan Carlos Cabral, in January 2004 when the mechanic was killed by a bomb.
Fabian’s mother, Anita Cabral, said the Snowball Express helps take some of the pain away for her children.
“(The Snowball Express) is something they definitely need to experience to see they are not alone,” Anita Cabral said. “They can bond with other children, which is so important. It makes our situation not so sad.”
Although he was only 6 when his father was killed, Coria remembers him fondly but realizes things will never be the same.
“I remember him always laughing and smiling,” Coria said. “I remember him coming back from (an earlier) deployment and walking through the terminal and seeing him come home.”
Manuel Cabral was on his second deployment when he was killed. This is the family’s third trip on the Snowball Express.
Nearby in the Killeen airport Thursday, two boys wrestled with each other on the floor as they waited for the plane. The boys, ages 8 and 9, lost their father, Christopher Michael McCloud, in Iraq in 2007 as a result of a bomb attack. He had been in the Army only six months and on his first deployment.
Sheena McCloud of Killeen found herself suddenly a single parent with two young toddlers, ages 2 and 3 at the time, in a community with which she was unfamiliar. Six years later, she still seeks a life of normalcy for her children.
“(The Snowball Express) gives us an opportunity to be around other families who know what it’s like to go through what we’ve been through,” McCloud said. “My husband was killed in September, so it’s a hard time of the year with the holidays and the boys’ sports. It’s bittersweet.”
This is the McCloud family’s first time on the Snowball Express. Her friend, Desty Boatright, who also lost her husband in combat, has been on The Snowball Express three times and was by McCloud’s side as they came down the tunnel and walked through the billowing American flags that lined the red carpet as they boarded the plane for a weekend of tears, laughter and a short break from the pain of sacrifice for freedom.