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Wendy Reuer, Published December 11 2013

Four ND children to meet other families of fallen soldiers as part of 'Snowball Express'

FARGO – Four North Dakota children whose parents are fallen service members are getting a chance to meet other kids who have suffered a similar loss with a trip to Texas on the “Snowball Express.”

For 16-year-old Eric Linde of Devils Lake and his mother, Adrienne Linde, it will cap off a full year without Sgt. 1st Class Darren Linde, was killed on Dec. 3, 2012, while serving in Afghanistan.

Eric Linde, a sophomore at Devils Lake High School, is the youngest of the couple’s children and the only boy.

“It’s been different,” Linde said Wednesday of the first year without his father. “I’ve had to grow up quick.”

On Wednesday night, as the mother and son settled in before their early flight today, both were looking forward to the warm Texas weather and getting to know other families of fallen soldiers.

Sara Blazek, survivor outreach services coordinator for the North Dakota National Guard, said about 1,800 children from across the nation who have lost parents serving in the military will arrive for the four-day event in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area this week.

“The kids that we have going can connect with kids who have also lost a parent and know what they going through.” Blazek said. “Snowball Express is a way of giving back to these kids who have lost so much and their families have forever changed.”

Along with the Lindes, three other North Dakota children and their parents will leave for Texas today:

  • Hailee McCormick, daughter of Cpl. Curtis Mehrer, who died in June 2006 while serving in Afghanistan with the North Dakota Army National Guard.

  • Messa Kuehl, daughter of Staff Sgt. David Kuehl, who died in May 2007 in Iraq while serving with the Army’s 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

  • Sophie Rishling, daughter of Sgt. Terry Rishling, who died in February 2010 while serving in Kosovo with the North Dakota Army National Guard.

    Adrienne Linde said the closeness of her own family and the Guard family has helped her through the past year.

    “We have been so incredibly blessed and thankful for the National Guard. They’ve been amazing,” she said.

    Eric Linde said he hopes to one day serve in the military, like his father.

    “I want to go to Afghanistan,” he said. “I want to see what my dad went through.”

    “That’s a hard one to swallow,” his mother said.

    Since the program began in 2006, four children from North Dakota have had the opportunity to take part each year, said Amy Wieser Wilson a communications specialist for the North Dakota National Guard.

    During the event, the children will attend sporting events, dances and take trips to amusement parks.

    “It’s a time to get away and make some happy memories this time of year,” Blazek said.

    If you go

    What: Sendoff for Snowball Express

    When: Arrive around 6:30 a.m. to see children depart before 7:40 a.m. takeoff time

    Where: Hector International Airport, Fargo

    Readers can reach Forum reporter

    Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530