December 9, 2011
By Joseph D. Bryant — The Birmingham News
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Bethany Channell was all smiles this morning as she entered the security checkpoint at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.
While she wasn’t sure what her trip would entail, the 13-year-old was certain she’d have a good time.
“I’m looking forward to just having a lot of fun,” said the Tuscaloosa County student at Sipsey Valley Middle School.
Bethany and her mother Joyce were among four families leaving Birmingham this morning as part of the Snowball Express, a nonprofit group providing all-expenses-paid excursions to families who have lost a parent and spouse in the military.
Bethany’s father, Marine Chief Warrant Officer Robert Channell, died while serving in Iraq in 2003.
“This Snowball organization is a wonderful group of people who have pulled together to recognize the lives lost,” said Joyce Channell, Robert Channell’s widow. “It means a great deal to us.”
The group was established in 2006 and works with partners including American Airlines and nonprofit organization Air Compassion for Veterans.
In all, nine chartered and 48 non-chartered flights are set to transport families from around the country. In addition to the four families leaving Birmingham, another Alabama family departed from Huntsville today.
Several of the families are return Snowball riders, including the Channells and Sandey Greene along with her son, Lorenzo Holmes.
Greene wore a shirt featuring the image of Army Staff Sgt. Quentin Greene. Greene served in Iraq before returning home, falling ill and dying of a heart attack in 2006. He died on Sandey Greene’s birthday.
“It was unbelievable,” Greene said. “By being on my birthday it was extremely hard.”
His son, 17-year old Lorenzo Holmes, was 12 when his father died.
“He was a nice person,” said the 11th grader from Chelsea. “He was always making you laugh.”
Greene said she was looking forward to a visit to the rodeo, an activity her son quickly dismissed in favor of Six Flags.
Even before the flight took off, the goal of the trip — to create excitement — was accomplished.
Members of the Alabama Army National Guard as well as members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a patriotic biker group, were invited to the airport to greet the families.
“The families sacrifice as much as we do,” said Staff Sgt. Neil Bryant.