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Military families leave Fayetteville for special trip of new memories

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Emma Dozier, 7, holds her "dad pillow" as she waits to go the Snowflake Express trip Fayetteville Regional Airport. Emma Dozier, 7, holds her "dad pillow" as she waits to go the Snowflake Express trip Fayetteville Regional Airport.
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -

Thursday afternoon Fayetteville Regional Airport was buzzing with excitement and a large group of travelers who obviously were not the average flyers. Some were wearing Santa hats, other mock reindeer antlers, and there were a lot of kids. The cheerful sendoff they got was a clear sign the group was special.

These were all spouses and children of military members killed on active duty since 9/11. The Snowball Express organization flew them on a trip from to Dallas where they meet other families like them for four days of fun.

"It's constant go, go, go, and it's a celebration, and it's balloons flying everywhere," explained Amy Dozier who has taken her seven-year-old daughter Emma on the trip before. In a way, Emma has taken her dad too. She was holding a "dad pillow" that he sent her from Iraq. The small pillow is slender enough to fit easily in Emma's arms. The front is a printed full-body image of her dad Jon Dozier, and it's shaped to like just like his figure. The pillow arrived in the mail three weeks after he was killed in 2008.

Stories like that are what make the trip so special.

"It's like the club you never wanted to be a part of, but then you walk away from an experience like this and you can't imagine not being a part of it anymore, and I think the kids feel the same way too," Dozier said.

Between the sporting events, trips to the zoo and amusement parks and other activities on the trip, there is time to talk about someone they've lost.

"When you get with a group who understand your loss you find out you don't have to say much," Dozier said. "People automatically know your heart, and they know how to take care of you and be your friend. The things that you're able to take away are so wonderful and they last forever."

Dozier said many children make lasting friendships on the trip too, staying connected to others who understand them like few others do.

Snowball Express began in 2006. This year nearly 1,800 spouses and children of fallen military heroes will take the trip to Dallas.

Brandon Herring

Brandon is a North Carolina native and UNC alum who lives in Fayetteville, and covers Cumberland County and the Sandhills. Returning to North Carolina to work as a journalist is a dream come true for Brandon. More>>

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