An Emotional Experience at Snowball Express

Dec 20, 202312/20/2023




Billie Floyd serves as one of the Arkansas/Oklahoma Community Outreach Advisors for WoodmenLife. She recently participated in the Gary Sinise Foundation’s annual Snowball Express event in Orlando, FL, along with other associates and member volunteers. WoodmenLife contributed U.S. flags for the event’s Remembrance Garden, where more than 800 flags were displayed to honor and remember fallen heroes. Families were guided to their loved ones’ flag, each accompanied by a placard that indicated the name, branch of service and date of death of the loved one.

Floyd shared her experience at this deeply moving event:

By Billie Floyd, Community Outreach Advisor

Before I went to Snowball Express, I never thought much of the number 823. It’s just a random number that may come up in life on occasion. After Snowball Express, it’s no longer random and will always hold a special meaning to me.

Friday, Dec. 1

My fellow Community Outreach Advisors (COAs) and I arrived at the event venue and became familiar with the layout. When we entered the Remembrance Garden, the lights were on, and we were able to see the flags already set up, spaced evenly apart, with a long walkway that was formed into an ‘S’ shape.

Even though it flowed well, there were essentially two sides of the room with a gazebo and bench marking the middle. There were running fountains placed throughout the room, along with live greenery.

We were given our first task for the next morning. Before the room opened to all, we needed to make sure the flags were symmetrical, and the placards were straight.

Saturday, Dec. 2

We arrived back at the Remembrance Garden around 10 a.m.; after some guidance, we all began to work on the flags and placards. While working on the flags, the realization hit me that each person whose name was written in black ink, is a son, daughter, father, mother, or favorite aunt or uncle to someone arriving later that day. As I worked on each flag, I made sure to read each placard completely and think of that person with gratitude. It was shared with me later that each person was thanked for their service by the volunteers as the placards were being placed on the flagpole.

At noon, the flags were ready, the tissue boxes were placed throughout the room, and the Remembrance Garden’s doors opened. Our tasks were to help where needed and to walk around and ensure all flags and placards remained symmetrical.

We were told that the families would start to arrive at various times, and we could all gather and cheer them on as they made their way into the resort. When it was time for the first buses to arrive, we all made our way to the front entrance and anxiously waited for them.

As I looked around, I noticed a rainbow of shirts; black represented event staff or photo & video crew; purple represented mental health professionals; light-blue represented Gary Sinise Foundation staff; and yellow represented alumni. The volunteers all wore gray shirts, so it was easy to recognize who belonged to what group.

As the initial buses arrived, we watched to see who would be the first off. Shortly after, a young boy wearing a backpack, who looked a little nervous, stepped off the bus with his mother in tow. That’s when another realization hit me — the family members that I thought about in the Remembrance Garden were now in front of me. They were all arriving while being cheered on, bubbles blowing everywhere, and confetti being thrown, because they lost someone important to them. They lost someone who fought for me to sleep peacefully at night and may have fought their own monsters. My emotions overtook me. Through multiple busloads of people, I fought hard to hide my tears. There was a moment when a mother walking with her family noticed tears on my face and asked if I was okay. She stopped and gave me a hug. She gave ME a hug! She lost someone so special, and she was consoling me! I knew then that this was not just another work event; but instead, a life-changing event.

The COAs and I made our way back to the Remembrance Garden soon after guests arrived. The lights were now down low, and there was instrumental music playing on the speakers overhead. The fountains all had a beautiful blue glow to them, that along with the sound of the water flowing, provided a peaceful, calm feeling in the garden.

It was not long after that we noticed families coming in wearing red shirts — each with the statement on the back, ‘Honoring My Hero.’ Some walked in wearing patriotic lanyards around their necks, while some wore gold lanyards. The gold lanyards were for families who had never been to Snowball Express. We watched for these families, so that we could make sure to help them find their loved ones. Many chose to walk along the entire path until they found their family member’s flag.

During times when nobody was in the room, one of our most important jobs was to walk around and double-check the flags and placards. We didn’t want a family to walk up to a flag that was not displayed correctly or had their loved one’s placard crooked. This was a repetitive job that I was proud to do.

Throughout the day, more and more families would make their way along the garden path. I would see teenage sons walking with their arm around their mothers, mothers holding the hands of young children, teenagers coming in a group, all to pay respect to their loved ones.

Once these families found their loved one’s flag, I would make sure to keep my distance out of respect, but I would also walk over and discreetly place a tissue box next to them on the floor. They would sit down on the floor with a journal given to them at the entrance and write letters to their loved ones.

I would see people with purple shirts sitting on the floor consoling the families as cries of children and mothers could be heard throughout the room. These families were experiencing their loss all over again.

Occasionally a mother would come in and walk the pathway without their child. One told me that she wanted to see it firsthand, and compose herself, before her son came in.

I watched a little girl open a military bag and place items retrieved from that bag very carefully along the base of a flagpole. She and her mother both had journals and wrote letters. We were told that if you’re walking around and see letters open, you can read them. I chose not to read any that day because I wasn’t sure if I could handle it.

Sunday, Dec. 3

Our volunteering started at 9 a.m. I didn’t sleep well the night before, as I kept thinking of the families and the moments that I experienced.

A few of the volunteers that helped with the Remembrance Garden were from a group called Patriot Guard Riders (PGR). They had a moving wall on-site with over 7,000 names of fallen heroes, but also a row of small bears with leather vests on them. Each of the bears had a flag lapel pin, a PGR lapel pin, and a PGR patch on the back of its vest. These vests resembled the vests the PGR provided the children.

Throughout the day, I would see more and more children proudly wearing the vests with multiple patches on them, representing each year they attended Snowball Express. I would also see more and more bears lying by the bases of the flags. Similar to what I saw on Saturday, more and more families began to leave mementos at the bases of the flagpoles.

Seeing so many open letters, I decided that I would read a few. Little did I know how unprepared I was to read them.

One read, “I had our baby. She’s beautiful and smart, and I named her after you.” Another read, “I love you daddy, and I hope that you’re proud of me.” After reading several more, I decided that I wasn’t emotionally strong enough to read them. I chose to instead make sure that I completed my important task of straightening the flags and placards to show respect for the fallen hero and their family.

I witnessed a lot of special, tough moments for families. Teenage boys consoling their grieving mothers. A teenage girl, who was escorted by two friends, who, when she finally found her flag, told her friends, “Here’s my dad.” She sat down to write a letter, and then all three walked with their arms around each other to the flag of one of the other two girls’ fathers.

A mother walking through the path stopped when I offered her a tissue and proceeded to tell me and a fellow COA about how she had never walked the full path, because her husband is close to the front door. Her husband — not her husband’s flag, but her husband. She shared with us a little about her husband, and I shared with her what I had been told about how each person was thanked for their service as their name was going onto the flagpole. She thanked us for that. She and her daughter lost a person so important to them, and she thanked us for the small part that we played in their story. I was humbled and overwhelmed with emotion.

By the end of the day, I was emotionally drained. I had cried lots of tears and had felt the losses with many of the families.

I will never forget the 823 flags that I walked by repeatedly, straightening their corners and making sure the cards on the flagpoles were neat. I will never forget the moments that I witnessed and the grief the families of these fallen service heroes experienced. I will never forget the sacrifice of these heroes.

Learn more about WoodmenLife’s commitment to patriotism and our partnership with the Gary Sinise Foundation at



130 years strong shield with words 130 years strong with stars

We’ve been helping to protect the financial future of families like yours, making a difference in hometowns across America and honoring our country since 1890. As a not-for-profit life insurance company, we put money back into the community. We’re here when you need us most.

Learn More About WoodmenLife

Connect With WoodmenLife

Fill out the form below to have your local Representative contact you about our life insurance and retirement products, or about getting involved in our local community service efforts.

To protect your privacy, we do not provide quotes over email.

  • Required
  • Required
  • Required ###-###-####
  • Required #####
  • Optional

This is a solicitation of insurance and an agent may contact you. By submitting the above request, I consent to receive phone calls from a licensed insurance producer on behalf of Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society (WoodmenLife) and its affiliates at the phone number(s) above regarding WoodmenLife products and services. I understand that I can contact a Sales Representative directly to make a purchase.

Customer Service: 1-800-225-3108
Monday – Thursday | 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Friday | 7:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (Central Time)

© 2024 Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society
Omaha, Nebraska

This is a solicitation of insurance and an agent may contact you.

Securities are offered through Woodmen Financial Services, Inc., 1700 Farnam Street, Omaha, NE 68102, member FINRA/SIPC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society (collectively “WoodmenLife”). Securities other than the WoodmenLife Variable Annuity are issued by companies that are not affiliated with Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society.

Benefits are available to members. An individual becomes a member by joining our shared commitment to family, community and country, and by purchasing a WoodmenLife product. These fraternal benefits are not contractual, are subject to change and have specific eligibility requirements.

Some fraternal benefits include additional membership requirements including length of membership, number of qualifying members in household and/or a qualifying event.

Check out the background of Woodmen Financial Services, Inc. on FINRA’s BrokerCheck.

Business Continuity Plan | Products are not available in New York and all products may not be available in all states. | Not all Representatives are licensed to sell all products.

Fraud, Ethics and EEO Reporting Hotline: 1-844-339-3053

A+ Financial Rating

This company was issued a A+ (Superior) rating by the A.M. Best Company, click for additional details. WoodmenLife has been awarded a rating of A+ (Superior), the second highest ranking out of 15, for its financial strength and operating performance in 2022 by A.M. Best, an independent rating company that is nationally recognized for its objective reporting and rating of insurers.

International Use

This Site is not intended for access outside of the United States, including those individuals who reside in the European Economic Area (“EEA”). WoodmenLife makes no representation that materials on the Site are appropriate or available for use in locations outside of the United States, and accessing them from territories where their contents are illegal is prohibited. Those who choose to access the Site from outside of the United States do so on their own initiative and are responsible for compliance with local laws.