Fort Bragg Families mesmerized by Disney on Ice
November 6, 2009
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - Two-year-old Julien Cockrell may not have completely understood what all of the fuss was about, but as the lights in Fayetteville's Crown Center Coliseum turned blue and the music filled the air, it became apparent to him that something big was about to happen.
His eyes grew wide and his mouth opened in awe as one of his favorite friends skated smoothly onto the ice 15 feet in front of him.
Mickey Mouse and Disney on Ice had arrived and for the next two hours, Julien and 6,600 other Fort Bragg children of deployed Soldiers and their parents were transported into a world of imagination and dreams.
"We love it," said Sue Cockrell, Julien's mother. "We really wanted to come because my husband just came back from Iraq a week ago and he has missed so much while he was gone. This is a perfect event for us to do something memorable together as a Family."
As more and more Disney characters entertained the crowd, high above them four people were even more excited than the children.
"I think it's incredible and one of the most magnificent things I have ever been a part of," said Tommy Bolton, civilian aide to the secretary of the Army for North Carolina. "If we tantalized that child's imagination or if we teased that thought pattern for a few seconds in escaping their harsh reality of having mom or dad down range, then we've succeeded."
Having Disney on Ice perform for free was the brain child of Bolton and his wife Gail.
"It was my wife's idea, all I did was make it happen," Bolton said. "She wanted to do something special for these children. She wanted to do something for the unsung heroes, the moms and children who were left back."
To make it happen, the Boltons contacted Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the former commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Austin liked the idea and contacted some friends he had at Disney.
"Last July Lieutenant General Austin asked to come down to Fort Bragg to brainstorm some ideas on a party for the children," said Fred Larson, who worked with Disney for 20 years before becoming the director of culture transformation for Walter Reed Army Health Care System.
"We discovered Disney on Ice had Fayetteville on their schedule. We did one of those proverbial what ifs; 'What if we contacted Feld Entertainment, and what if we could talk them into doing a special performance just for the children," said Larson.
"We were floored," said Russ Belin, vice president, events marketing and sales, southeast for Feld Entertainment, the booking agency for Disney on Ice. "This was through the roof exciting for us. We have wanted to do this for a long time."
Felt Entertainment and the Crown Center agreed to open a day early for this special show. This is the first time Disney on Ice has held a free show for military Families.
In addition to the Crown Center and Feld Entertainment, Boulton arranged financial support from six corporations and eight military support organizations.
"There were no road blocks on this," said Bolton. "This has been a gift from heaven for these children if there ever was one and everyone wanted to help."
"It was fantastic," said Kelly Douglas, whose husband is assigned to the 96th Civil Affairs Bn. "My daughter Peyton was so excited with the show. It was neat hearing her talk to her dad about the show the next day," said Douglas.
"All we wanted was for the children to enjoy themselves with other kids for two hours," said Belin. "From the smiles on their faces, I think we accomplished that. They now have an indelible memory that they can share with their deployed parent so that parent can share in it even though they weren't here," he added.
"This, in my 20 years in the entertainment and hospitality industry, is the most wonderful experience that I have ever witnessed," said Larson. "It just doesn't get any better than that."