By Audrey Jensen
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Jennifer Johnson took pictures with her phone as her and her fiancé’s kids sang, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” together over the loud speaker at Security Service Field on a warm July evening.
Johnson, a Colorado Springs resident, and her family were just one of five families who attended the second annual Snowball Express event at a Sky Sox game in Colorado Springs, Colorado, July 6, 2018, hosted by Chapter 300 of the Noncommissioned Officers Association.
Johnson, who is retired military, lost her husband to colon cancer. Now, she is engaged to Army Sgt. 1st Class Josias Pico, who brought his kids from Hawaii to the baseball game. This is the family’s second year attending the Sky Sox game with other Snowball Express families.
“It’s great to know people care like this,” Johnson said. “To be eligible for some organizations, your spouse has to be killed in action, but Snowball Express doesn’t exclude people.”
In addition to the NOAC giving these families free tickets to the game, the families received up-close seats to the field, free merchandise and free food.
“The purpose of this event is to bring families and children together who have had similar experiences and to provide a safe, happy event for them,” said Angie Gardner, NOAC Chapter 300 member. “It’s a safe place for them to share similar experiences they’ve gone through with other families.”
The NOAC Chapter 300, which is an Air Academy Chapter that was chartered by Congress in 1971, represents enlisted members from all Armed Forces branches at Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever AFB, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, the U.S. Air Force Academy and other areas.
The chapter hosts events like these for families who are part of Snowball Express, a Gary Sinise Foundation program that honors fallen service members who have served since 9/11.
Last year, the chapter also gave tickets to Snowball Express families for the Air Force vs. Army football game, and will be giving more tickets away to families for the Air Force vs. Navy game.
One person who attended last year’s football game was Peggy Riggen, a Colorado Springs resident who recently adopted her grandnephew, Joshua Blackwell, after he lost his mom and dad, who both served in the military.
“His father passed away in Iraq when he was about five months old,” Riggen said. “He talks to his dad in heaven, and I don’t discourage that at all. He talks to his mom now, too.”
Blackwell’s dad served in the Army while his mom was in the Navy, Riggen said. Blackwell is now 11 years old and has attended several Snowball Express events, including the program’s large annual event held in Texas for families of fallen service members.
“I see how these events have been good for him,” Riggen said. “Because then kids see that there’s other kids in the same boat as they are. Though Joshua is autistic, he understands that his father died overseas, his mother had talked to him over the years about it — it’s just good for him to get an understanding.”
Since adopting her nephew in 2016, Riggen said she has enjoyed taking Blackwell to different events through Snowball Express.
“It encourages me to remember to get him out to do things like I did when my kids were young. It keeps me young,” she said. “They’ve really made it an easy and fun event. The people that put these on, the people that come together and volunteer for these and contribute their money to this, they’re a godsend.”