'Snowball Express' vacation takes grieving military kids on special holiday journey

1,700 kids with deceased military parent included

INDIANAPOLIS - Dozens of Indiana kids who've lost a parent to war began a four-day, all-expenses paid holiday vacation Friday.
    
For the seventh year of the Snowball Express, the send-off included games, a bounce house, Colts cheerleaders, racecar drivers and Santa.

American Airlines donated nine charter planes, and pilots and crew volunteered their time to fly 1,700 kids and their surviving parent from across the country to Dallas Fort Worth for the Holiday celebration.

The families will attend concerts, a parade, a rodeo and a tree-lighting ceremony and visit a Six Flags theme park.

"Christmas kind of brings a sad time of year for them, remembering their Mom or Dad," said Snowball Express spokesman Martin Plowman. "So they get to meet new friends who are going through the same thing and it's a chance to build and create new memories."

This is Rebecca Audo's third year on the Snowball Express with her son Austin and daughter Ashley.

"It's amazing. They look forward to it," Rebecca Audo said. "They get very excited."

Austin and Ashley's dad, Major David Audo, served in the U.S. Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan before he was killed in 2009.

For the Audo family, the holiday season is hard.

"It's nice to know that American Airlines thinks of our families," Rebecca Audo said. "And I think it's just being with the kids, seeing them smile and just knowing that they can enjoy themselves. It's just the thought that people care enough to do this for the fallen soldiers and their children."

Austin Audo said he feels like this trip is basically a Christmas gift from his father.

"He's been watching over me for the last three years that we lost him," Austin said.

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