For most kids, saying goodbye to Mom or Dad is a daily occurrence, usually followed with a warm “hello” at the end of the day. But for military brats around the globe, watching a parent walk out the door brings a sense of uncertainty and sadness; some of those moms and dads return from deployment with life-altering injuries, and some don’t come home at all, leaving their families to pick up the pieces and carry on. For those kids, and for the many others living the nomadic lives of military families, Brat Pack 11 was created to make a difference.
Brat Pack 11 is a program administered by the Boot Campaign to show honor and gratitude to our nation’s youngest boots on the ground. Part of that mission includes providing selected kids with unforgettable experiences that may temporarily ease the pain of having a parent wounded or killed in military service. And on March 20, 2014, the first Brat Pack 11 wish was granted to Alexa and Jace Venetz of San Antonio, Texas. It was a weekend to remember!
Alexa and Jace’s dad Anthony, an Army Green Beret, was killed in action in 2011. Just days before his deployment was to end and he was to return home to his family, his wife Debbie received word of his death and their world forever changed. Alexa and Jace were just seven and three years old at the time, but regardless of their young age, the void left by the death of their father was immense. Under the steadfast guidance of their mom, Alexa and Jace have remained grounded, well-adjusted kids despite their tragic loss. They’re excelling in school and extracurricular activities and lead positive, happy lives. The credit undoubtedly goes to Debbie, with help from their extended military family and friends.
Gifted with the pen and a creative spark, Alexa began writing a book chronicling her experience losing her dad. Most poignant and heartbreaking are her recollections of learning he had died and attending his funeral. She wrote:
My mother told me what happened and all of a sudden, I felt like I was going to sink. I felt like the world was going to end without my daddy. The worst part was he was two days from coming home and I was looking forward to seeing him in person at home, not at a funeral. We had waited to have my birthday party for that weekend so that my Dad would be there.
They brought my father’s coffin and there were soldiers to welcome him. I was trying not to cry, but I did. Later on, my mother went back to the funeral home to have her own goodbye with my dad. She didn’t want anyone to be there with her while she spoke to him. She later told me that she wanted to speak to him about guiding us from heaven.
Alexa was nominated for a Brat Pack 11 wish by her godmother Natalie Kelly, who revealed that a true Hollywood adventure would be Alexa’s once-in-a-lifetime experience. Knowing her love for the Disney Channel show “Jessie,” the Boot Campaign went to work devising a trip to the Golden State the Venetz family would never forget!
Boot Campaign staffers traveled to San Antonio Thursday, March 20 to surprise Alexa and Jace with the good news. The kids arrived at the airport unaware of the amazing trip to come – their mom had kept the entire plan a secret. The kids were shown a video explaining the premise behind the trip without divulging too many details, local NBC affiliate WOAI interviewed the kids and then the family boarded a plane to California. The excitement on their faces was priceless!
As an added surprise, Brat Pack 11 founder Kenzie Hall and her family joined the team for the weekend! Over the next few days, Alexa, Jace, Debbie and the Boot Campaign crew lived Hollywood life to the fullest – the elementary-age fullest, that is. Day one included a tour of the Sony production studios and the following afternoon brought the biggest surprise of all: a trip to the set of Alexa’s favorite show, “Jessie!” After meeting Jessie herself, actress Debby Ryan, Alexa was treated to a TV-inspired makeover and then the whole team sat in on a taping of the show. All of Saturday was spent having fun in the sun at iconic Universal Studios, where “Despicable Me” and “Transformers” themed attractions were a big hit.
According to Alexa, meeting Brat Pack founder Kenzie Hall and her family was one of the most memorable moments, next to meeting Debby Ryan, of course. Jace enthusiastically proclaimed each day the best of his life and really enjoyed hanging out on the “Jessie” set with Cameron Boyce, who plays Luke on the show. The crew also visited Adam Sandler’s home, where the most impressive aspect for Jace was the heated seat in the bathroom!
The trip ended Sunday with their return to Texas, but the entire Venetz family promised to keep in touch with their new friends at the Boot Campaign. Just a few weeks later, the trio traveled up to Dallas for the third annual Boot‘n Shoot’n event at the Dallas Gun Club. Like true Boot Campaign ambassadors, Debbie, Alexa and Jace visited with event staff, sponsors and participants and even spent time working the merchandise booth! The kids’ resilient spirit served as even greater inspiration for the men and women who had gathered to celebrate and support our nation’s military heroes.
Brat Pack 11 and the Boot Campaign are thrilled to have provided the Venetz family with an experience to honor their struggles and sacrifice. Funding for this wish was made possible through donations by our generous sponsors; if you would like to make dreams come true for military families, head over to bootcampaign.com and donate today!