Event Celebrates Children of Fallen Servicemembers

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2006 - Children of servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11 are invited to jump aboard the Snowball Express -- destination Disneyland, with a couple of fun stops along the way.

Not an actual train, but a holiday experience for about 1,000 military children and their guardians, the Snowball Express is not full yet. "We're trying to get everybody registered by Nov. 15," Michael Kerr, the event's creator, said.

Designed to let the children know their sacrifices aren't forgotten, the Dec. 15-17 event is free to participants. "They don't pay one penny," Kerr said. "They've already paid everything they need to pay to this country."

The M. Scott Kerr Foundation, founded by Kerr, is sponsoring the Snowball Express in conjunction with Rotary Clubs of Costa Mesa, Calif., and other major contributors. He set up the foundation to help alleviate any disparity between military benefits and the actual costs of day-to-day living, Kerr said.

When the group arrives in Orange County, Calif., they'll be treated to dinner and a viewing of "The Glory of Christmas," Kerr said. The non-denominational production will take place at the Crystal Cathedral, home base for an international ministry.

"The next day, ... they'll be at the Oakley Corporation world headquarters," Kerr said.

There, they'll get to talk to X-Games athletes, NASCAR and National Hot Rod Association drivers, and entertainers participating in the event. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also is scheduled to attend, Kerr said.

"They will be given an enormous amount of gifts at this event," he added.

Quicksilver clothing company and Oakley, famous for sunglasses, will provide the children with clothing and other gifts. Those items will be combined with what's donated to Snowball Express through toy drives, Kerr said, adding that UPS will ship all of the gifts directly to the children's homes.

That goes for anything they buy that evening at the Irvine Spectrum Center, a high-end shopping center, as well. The kids will receive American Express gift cards to use at the retailers, many of which are offering the children a 50 percent discount, he said. For those who'd rather play than shop, the center's ice rink will be open only to those with the Snowball Express.

"On Sunday, they go to Disneyland," Kerr said.

The next morning it's time to re-board the Snowball Express and head for home to relive all the memories and await the UPS truck.

Kerr created the Snowball Express in Phoenix in 1997 to put a little holiday cheer into the lives of homeless and at-risk children. The events of Sept. 11 had curtailed the program until now.

"When I came ... out here to Orange County (Calif.) to actually marry my high school sweetheart, we were driving down one day by Camp Pendleton," he said. "I was telling her that I wanted to bring this event to Orange County, but I didn't really know what groups I could reach out to."

As it turned out, the answer was right in front of them.

"She pointed over at the base, and she said, 'I bet you could find a few kids over there,'" he said. "It snowballed from there, no pun intended."

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