Holiday Express makes season merry, bright

A mother and daughter from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., play together while waiting to board the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, at a railyard in downtown Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

A mother and daughter from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., play together while waiting to board the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, at a railyard in downtown Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

A dependent from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., smiles aboard the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, in Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

A dependent from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., smiles aboard the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, in Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

A dependent from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., greets fellow passengers aboard the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, in Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

A dependent from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., greets fellow passengers aboard the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, in Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

A dependent from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., looks out the window of the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, in Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

A dependent from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., looks out the window of the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, in Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

A dependent from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., takes a nap aboard the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, in Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

A dependent from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., takes a nap aboard the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, in Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

Santa Claus delivers presents to children aboard the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, in Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

Santa Claus delivers presents to children aboard the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, in Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

Parents and children wait to take photos with Santa Claus aboard the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, in Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

Parents and children wait to take photos with Santa Claus aboard the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, in Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

Air Commandos and family members from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., prepare to board the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, at a railyard in downtown Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force Courtesy Photo)

Air Commandos and family members from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., prepare to board the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, at a railyard in downtown Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force Courtesy Photo)

A dependent from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., waits to board the Holiday Express wearing a novelty BNSF Railway Junior Officer badge, Dec. 1, 2016, at a railyard in downtown Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

A dependent from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., waits to board the Holiday Express wearing a novelty BNSF Railway Junior Officer badge, Dec. 1, 2016, at a railyard in downtown Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

A dependent from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., waits to board the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, at a railyard in downtown Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)
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A dependent from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., waits to board the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, at a railyard in downtown Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

Dressed as an elf, a BNSF Railway employee waits to welcome passengers aboard the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, at a railyard in downtown Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)
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Dressed as an elf, a BNSF Railway employee waits to welcome passengers aboard the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, at a railyard in downtown Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

A mother and daughter from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., wait to board the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, at a railyard in downtown Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)
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A mother and daughter from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., wait to board the Holiday Express, Dec. 1, 2016, at a railyard in downtown Clovis, N.M. For nine consecutive years, the BNSF Railway has invited service members and their loved ones aboard the Holiday Express to enjoy milk, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus to show their appreciation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/Released)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

Three steep steps was all it took to transport dozens of Air Commandos and their littlest loved ones from a downtown Clovis railyard into a winter wonderland aglow with twinkling lights, glittering ornaments and smelling of freshly-baked sugar cookies.

In a gesture representative of the lasting bonds between Cannon and community partners in New Mexico, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway invited service members from the 27th Special Operations Wing aboard the Holiday Express for a military appreciation event, Dec. 1.

“The Holiday Express gives us the opportunity to say thank you to the men and women who wear the uniform and serve our nation, as well as to honor the families who make tremendous sacrifices alongside them,” said Andrew Johnson, BNSF assistant vice president and community affairs lead.

Tech. Sgt. Shantel Raphiel, 27th SOW Protocol specialist, boarded the Holiday Express with her husband and three children after a long day of anticipation.

“My kids were so excited it was hard to get them to school in the morning,” Raphiel said. “They thought they might miss the train.”

The Holiday Express proved to be worth the wait. Each train car was different than the last, and adorned top-to-bottom with seasonal décor. Children were given license to roam, and scurried along corridors searching for the perfect booth in which to enjoy the 90-minute ride, as well as treats BNSF had prepared.

“My wife and two children rode the Holiday Express with me,” said Lt. Col. Nathan Scopac, 27th SOW Inspector General. “The reception was really wonderful. The BNSF staff punched our tickets, escorted the kids onto the train, and immediately began engaging with passengers. We got to ride in a historic passenger car that offered an excellent view of Clovis, and was decked out in holiday decorations.”

After enjoying a vibrant High Plains sunset, the Holiday Express reached cruising speed and passengers were treated to milk, cookies, and a visit from the man in red himself.

“The kids really enjoyed being on the train with their friends, going from seat to seat and car to car” Scopac said. “Santa was definitely a big hit, especially with my 5-year-old daughter.”

With his belly jiggling like a bowl full of jelly, Santa greeted each child individually and presented them with gleaming gold ornaments to commemorate their adventure, and posed for photos as parents looked on, beaming.

“We loved the experience,” Raphiel said. “My children thought it was the coolest thing because they got cookies and hot chocolate, and got to see Santa. I enjoyed the great company, and watching the joy on my kids’ faces throughout.”

Undoubtedly a unique experience for those involved, the Holiday Express infused Air Commando families with holiday spirit, and a renewed appreciation for the close-knit community in which they live and work.

“The Holiday Express shows the amount of goodwill between the local community and the 27th SOW,” Scopac said. “The event was a great opportunity for Cannon families to come together with community members and enjoy the season together. It’s truly a wonderful experience.”