What started out as a simple concept by Orange County businessman Michael Kerr snowballed until it became the largest event ever held to honor the families of fallen U.S. troops in our War on Terror. On December 15, 2006, the aptly named Snowball Express rolled into Orange County with close to 900 participants that were flown in from around the world for a four-day, non-stop event. The weekend started with a Friday night visit to the Crystal Cathedral to see "The Spirit of Christmas."
On Saturday the group made its way to a massive open house at Oakley. Mid-morning, as hundreds of local residents lined the streets waving American flags and holding up homemade banners, bus after bus of wives, husbands, moms, dads and children of fallen heroes arrived to a heartfelt welcome. Hand numbing applause, spontaneous hugs and pure support was from the soul – not a dry eye to be found anywhere.
After Oakley’s own Sarah Cruz sang the national anthem, Kent Lane parachuted a bulls-eye into the circle while flying one of the largest American flags you’ve ever seen. Next, a missing man formation of F-18 fighter jets screamed overhead with volunteers and employees hoisting kids to their shoulders so they could get the best view. Then it was on to the fun!
The parking lot was set up with freestyle BMX and skateboard exhibitions, static car displays and a giant free food court featuring food donated from Panda Express, Outback, Taco Bell, Togos and Baskin Robbins. Inside the lobby was set up with a daycare center and tables for people to rest from all the activities. The theatre became a chapel as a looping slide show tribute to the military personnel lost in Iraq and Afghanistan played – a quiet place to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice these men, women and their families have made for this country.
Taking up the entire length of the basketball court was what could best be described as Bounce House Mountain, a massive obstacle course that had the adults winded by the end of the day. The cafeteria was transformed into a makeshift teen hangout with a DJ, videos and video games. And of course what holiday celebration would be complete without a visit from Santa who flew in on a helicopter.
On hand to lend support and performance were professional skaters Tony Hawk, Bucky Lasek, Ryan Sheckler, Bob Burnquist, Neal Hendrix, Pierre Luc-Gagnon, Ryan Sheckler and Mike Vallely along with professional BMX riders Luke Parslow, Alistair Whitton, Ben Snowden, Jimmy Walker, Koji Kraft and Jay Miron to name a few. The kids were absolutely wide-eyed and stoked to meet a few of their sport idols.
Throughout the day at Oakley, more than a couple hundred employees and volunteers from across Southern California were on hand to ensure that fun, appreciation and support were always 100 percent. After Oakley, the families made their way to the Irvine Spectrum for a shopping spree, a visit to Disneyland on Sunday and an Anaheim Ducks hockey game on Monday.
The opportunity for the Oakley family to share hugs, tears, smiles and laughter – the absolute honor to have participated in this event – has left a mark that will travel with each of us forever. Never forget. Always honor.