The Snowball Express: Gold Star families bond, heal on 5-day trip

Behind each smiling face exiting the Snowball Express by American Airlines, there's a story to tell.

They're members of the Gold Star families, the ones who've lost a loved one who died while serving their country.

The Snowball Express allows them to gather to share their grief-- and joy-- for five days in Dallas. They returned to Charlotte on Wednesday. 

RELATED: Snowball Express gets results for Gold Star families for holidays

One of the passengers on the Snowball Express got teary-eyed as she told FOX 46's Caroline Fountain that this would be her last trip with the program.

"I'm going to miss my family. That's my family," Darcy Siebert said. 

It’s a family that has been there for Darcy and her two children for ten years. A decade worth of trips to Dallas.

"My husband, Captain Todd Siebert, was killed in action in February of '07. He was in (the U.S. Marine Corps for) 15 years, (we were) married almost 13, had two kids (who were) 6 and 9 (when he died) and we've been doing Snowball ever since."

Darcy showed me a picture of her husband and two children. It's from New Year's Eve, the day he left for Iraq. Her children were 6 and 9 at the time. Now, they're 17 and 20. Both officially graduated from the Snowball Express.

She described the most memorable moment from her last Snowball trip.

"The walk of gratitude with the balloon launch. One last message on a balloon to lift up into the sky with everybody else going through the same thing." Darcy says she wrote the same thing she does every year, “that we miss him and love him and will never forget him."

Another family released their balloon for the first time.

"It's truly amazing and you wouldn't understand unless you were there and in it and see it," said Christie Brown.

She released her balloon for Army SPC Fred Greene alongside her two daughters. One of them, Haley Greene, says she was just nine years old when her father died in combat.

“One of my favorite memories was when we all went to the beach. He would play with me in the water, pick me up, and throw me in the water. We called him a jungle gym because he would let us crawl all over him and he would flip us and play with us on the beach," said Haley.

She shared those happy memories and the sad ones with people just like her.

"It has been very difficult. I'm a suppressor for sure. I push things down and don't like to feel a lot of my emotions. Going to these things forces you remember and feel it. Even if you don't want to, it's a good thing."

A good thing whether it's your first time going on the Snowball Express or your last.

"It's all about the kids and having fun. That's all it is. Five full days. That's what we look forward to. Five full days of smiles," said Darcy.

You can learn more about the Snowball Express here.