Family honors father-of-3 killed at war in Afghanistan

James "Trey" Ponder
Master Sgt. James "Trey" Ponder III

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WKRN) – One of the 16 soldiers who died when a U.S. military helicopter was shot down in eastern Afghanistan in 2005 was a Franklin, Tennessee, native.

Master Sgt. James “Trey” Ponder III was remembered by his family on Memorial Day at a special event that’s now become a tradition.

Snowball Express, an organization that serves the children of fallen military heroes, helped the Ponders through the very difficult years following his death.

James "Trey" Ponder
Master Sgt. James “Trey” Ponder III

The Ponder family started the Snowball Express 5K to raise money for the program.

On the website, they note demand for the organization’s help rose throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while donations decreased, and they wanted to do something to help.

“The girls have said it’s done more for them than counseling did,” Leslie Ponder told News 2, speaking of her two daughters who were just 6 and 7 years old when their father died.

“[With] Snowball, I’m surrounded by people who understand my story and we don’t have to justify the way we do things,” Samantha Ponder said, who is now 17 years old. “We are just ourselves around each other.”

“It really helps just knowing somebody’s been going through the exact same thing,” added 16-year-old Elizabeth Ponder.

It was 10 years ago the family packed up Memorial Day weekend for time at the beach together before Sgt. Ponder deployed.

James "Trey" Ponder family
Leslie Ponder with Master Sgt. James “Trey” Ponder III with their two daughters (Courtesy: Snowball Express 5K’s website)

He died about a month later.

“Memorial Day for us, it’s not one day out of the year. It could be a random Tuesday in October. It hits us,” Leslie Ponder said.

The 5K the family holds is now to honor his life and memory while giving back.

“I just remember his smile and how loving he was,” Samantha said.

“There’s nothing sad to remember about him. He was always happy, always joyful, and that’s what I remember,” Elizabeth added.

Leslie Ponder said all she and her daughters have a heart to give just like her husband did.

“And that’s what we want to do with the Snowball Express 5K, is just pay it forward,” she explained.

To read more about the race, click here to visit their website.

In the video below, hear Tom Miller reflect on Sgt. Ponder, his son-in-law, in his own words.

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