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CNN Brings Military Family Together; Top-10 Sport Stories of the Year; Edward Snowden Gives Christmas Message; Man Gives Away Frequent Flyer Miles.

Aired December 25, 2013 - 11:30   ET


PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Well, this Christmas morning, we are bringing together one special family. Lt. Colonel William Brown joins us from Kabul International Airport Base in Afghanistan. He is far away from his home in Parker Heights, Texas. That's where we find his family, his wife Mary and two children, 10 year old Ashley and 13 year old Alex. They are celebrating Christmas today.

Welcome to the show everyone. Happy holidays to you. Merry Christmas.

Colonel, I want to start with you.

LT. COL. WILLIAM BROWN, U.S. ARMY: Happy holidays, Pamela. Thank you for having us.

BROWN: I'm so glad we could bring you together. I understand this is the first time we're seeing, obviously remotely.

Colonel, i want to start with you. I can imagine house hard it must be waking up today without your family. What would you like to say to them?

WILLIAM BROWN: Well, first off, I would like to say to my wife, Marilyn, I love you, and everything that I am and I ever will ever be is because of your love and your support. Because of you are our family has harmony and everyone feels love. As long as I have you, I'll always be happy. You're my everything.

To my son and daughter, who is sitting there with her, Ashley and Alex -- our son William is off in college -- I would like to say merry Christmas and thank you for the support you've given mom since dad has been away.

BROWN: On that note, Mary, I know it's been difficult not having your husband around on Christmas. I understand this is really the first Christmas without your husband. I know your kids were about 1 and 4 years old when he wasn't there, but this is the first sort of memorable Christmas. What would you like to say to him? I want all three of you to speak.

Mary, we'll start with you. MARILYN BROWN, WIFE OF LT. COL. WILLIAM BROWN: I just wanted to say the same. Merry Christmas. I hope you had a wonderful holiday. We miss you very much. We can't wait to see you back at home shortly. BROWN: Ashley and Alex, what would you like to say to your dad?

ASHLEY BROWN, DAUGHTER OF LT. COL. WILLIAM BROWN: This Christmas feels different. I feel like there's something missing.

ALEX BROWN, SON OF LT. COL. WILLIAM BROWN: I can't wait until he comes home.

BROWN: Something missing.

Alex? You want to say anything.

ALEX BROWN: First, I want to say merry Christmas. I can't wait until my dad comes home.

BROWN: Oh, and, Colonel, when do you plan on coming back to be with your family?

WILLIAM BROWN: Well, I can't say exactly when our redeployment will be because of operational security, but one thing I'd like to say, as a son of a Vietnam veteran, I would like to say that it's an honor to wear this uniform, and I would like to say thank you to the American people for the unwavering support that you have given to the military. You know, Pamela, there would be no land of the free without the brave. As difficult as it is for me to be away from my family today, it is a privilege to be deployed this Christmas day with so many soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, some who have been wounded in action and some who made the ultimate sacrifice. This is not a task we take lightly, and it's something that's difficult for me, being away from my family, but something that many military families have experienced before.

BROWN: You know, just a reminder, Colonel, the fact you aren't able to be with your family, just a reminder of the sacrifice you are making for our country. We thank you for your service.

Quickly, I want to know what you are doing with those other soldiers there in Afghanistan who are also unable to be with their families today. What are you doing to celebrate Christmas?

WILLIAM BROWN: Well, we spent all of our time together, making sure we all share in the spirit of the holiday. And also if we can't be with our families, we wanted to make sure we gave our families one of the greatest gifts we could. That is the safety and security that our nation provides them. So being over here to defend freedom is something we're proud to do so our families can be happy and safe. As you know, let's be clear, when a soldier deploys, a family deploys. So having the support of the American people, whether this is my first, second or third or last deployment, it means a lot to us over here to know the American people support us and it makes this tour of duty more worth of effort.

BROWN: We cannot thank you enough for all that you've done for this country.

Before we wrap up, just one last chance to say anything you may not have had a chance to say.

Mary, we'll start with you?

MARILYN BROWN: Just be safe, don't work too hard, and we look forward to seeing you soon, and I love you very much.

BROWN: Ashley and Alex?

ASHLEY: BROWN: Come home!


BROWN: Come home.

ALEX BROWN: I can't wait.


All right. Well, thank you all. Merry Christmas to you. "Far from home but in their hearts." I love that line.


BROWN: Go ahead, Colonel.

WILLIAM BROWN: Lastly, Pamela, thank you very much. I appreciate this opportunity. We really appreciate the support that's been provided to military families. It means a lot to us over here, knowing that so many back home love and support us. We look forward to coming home.

BROWN: Thank you so much, Colonel William Brown and Dr. Mary Brown, Ashley and Alex. Thank you all for being on the show.

WILLIAM BROWN: It's Marilyn, Marilyn, Marilyn Brown.


BROWN: Marilyn Brown, OK. I was told Mary.

All right. Thank you so much.

We'll be right back.



BROWN: So a lot of us didn't wake up to a white Christmas today, but there is a lot of ice around. And it's really not the next best thing at all.

Jennifer Gray in the CNN Weather Center for us.

Hi there, Jennifer. What's happening? JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Pamela. This ice is left over from the storm we had. Temperatures have not got above freezing. So that's why we're still dealing with quite a bit of ice right around the Great Lakes. Hundreds of thousands without power, even on Christmas Day. The rest of the nation staying extremely quiet. We have mostly sunny skies. In the South, we have just a couple rain showers in South Texas but that's really it.

We will see some additional snow in parts of Michigan. No additional ice but we will see some snow. This is pictures from Lansing, Michigan. You can see the ice left over from that storm this weekend. Still on those branches that just weighs them down. That's where you're getting those power outages.

As we go through tonight and even tomorrow night, we could get one to three inches of additional snowfall, places like Detroit, Grand Rapids. Then it will spill over into the northeast during the next 48 hours. That's where we could see anywhere from two to four inches in Upstate New York and one to three inches in Maine.

Temperatures for today, nice and mild across the Deep South. 60 degrees in Houston today. 46 here in Atlanta. Temperatures in the 30s in the northeast.

And if you're wanting to wake up to a white Christmas, well, last year, about 50 percent of the country was covered in snow on Christmas day. This year, about 40 percent, so there's a lot of kids out there that can make that snowman today on Christmas day.

BROWN: Jennifer Gray, with our Christmas day forecast, thank you so much.

GRAY: No problem.

BROWN: Ali Gee has done it, Marge Simpson has done it, even former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has done it. Today, Edward Snowden did it, too. He delivered an alternative Christmas message on British TV Channel 4. The American now charged with espionage for exposing U.S. surveillance programs says he dreams of a world where governments can't see everything all the time.


EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA WHISTLEBLOWER: A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, and unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. That's a problem, because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.


BROWN: So what is Snowden's message an alternative to? Her majesty's, of course. Queen Elizabeth delivered her Christmas message just in the last hour. Earlier, she joined the rest of the royal family, minus the newest member, 5-month-old Prince George, for service at the family estate in Sandringham.

And going to sports now, there were those who continued to soar in 2013, but also those who fell far and fell hard. Our top-10 sports stories of the year are on the way right after this break. Don't go anywhere.


BROWN: One icon was forced to step down from pedals and his pedestal in disgrace. Another proved again why he is called king. No doubt Lance Armstrong and Lebron James traveled dramatically different paths in 2013. Here are the top-10 sports stories of the year.


VINCE CELLINI, BLEACHER REPORT: The year in sports included the gruesome, as in the horrific leg injury suffered by Louisville's Kevin Ware, and the gullible, as in Notre Dame linebacker, Manti Te'o and his fake Twitter girlfriend. But our look back begins with the plug pulled in Super Bowl XXXXVII.

CELLINI (voice-over): Not long after Beyonce amped up the crowd at half time, the Superdome in New Orleans was blanketed in darkness when a sensor monitoring the electrical load cut off power. For 39 minutes, they were put on hold.

With one second remaining, it appeared as though number one Alabama and number four Auburn were headed to overtime. What happened next is a play for the ages.

ANNOUNCER: 56-yarder, does not have the leg. Chris Davis takes it in the end of the end zone. Davis is going to run it all the way back. Auburn is going to win the football game! Holy cow! Oh, my god! Auburn wins!


CELLINI: Lebron James has separated himself as the greatest player in pro basketball and a worldwide brand as evidenced by appearances like that one in China. Back home, James made good on his promise of multiple championships for Miami when the Heat won a second straight titles with James winning back-to-back league and finals MVPs.

They were both Miami Dolphins, yet one felt more tortured than teammate. When Jonathan Martin accused Richie Incognito and others of bullying, a voice mail using a racial epithet and "I'll kill you," was released. Incognito remains suspended. A probe continues. More important, we're re-examining the pro football work place. Intimidation and aggression are a fabric of the sport, but where does the locker room end and real life begin?

He was an American hero, a cancer survivor, a seven-time Tour de France champion, yet Lance Armstrong could no longer deny the allegations of a doping scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OPRAH WINFREY, TV HOST: All seven of your victories, did you take banned substances or blood dope?



CELLINI: Armstrong was stripped of his titles, lost endorsements, and was banned for life from cycling.

(on camera): Gay athletes have long participated in major team sports, but did so in silence. Jason Collins has emerged as a voice.

(voice-over): The 34-year-old center said he spent a lifetime in secrecy but had to be true to himself and others. A free agent, he may never again play in the NBA, but his announcement is a contribution far more important than points and rebounds.

It's been a stain on America's pastime, the steroid era. Former MVP Alex Rodriguez was among 14 players linked to a clinic which dealt in performance enhancing drugs. Rodriguez has denied the accusation and has appealed a non-precedented 215-game ban. While baseball judges A- Rod today, time will ultimately determine his place in history.


UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR: The troubled past of Aaron Hernandez.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, A.C. 360: Aaron Hernandez charged with first- degree murder today.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Oscar Pistorius, a South African Olympic star, accused of murdering his girlfriend.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: The man known as the Blade Runner wiping away tears.


CELLINI: How does a successful athlete get charged with murder? The Blade Runner, Olympian Oscar Pistorius, claims he mistakenly shot his girlfriend in his South African villa and will stand trial in March.

And former New England tight end, Aaron Hernandez, who not long ago signed a $40 billion contract, is also awaiting trial. Prosecutors say he orchestrated the execution-style shooting of an acquaintance, an accusation Hernandez denies.

A $765 million settlement between the NFL and ex-players over concussion-related injuries was a good first step. Next is saving the game. The league hopes committing millions to research and implementing new rules promoting safety will ease concerns about head injuries in a sport that will always be violent and never risk-free.

In April, a Boston tradition turned tragic.


CELLINI: The bombings challenged a city and a baseball team to move forward, and they did. The slogan "Boston Strong" was a rallying cry. And five day after the bombing, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said what many were thinking.



ORTIZ: And nobody is going to take our city.


ORTIZ: Stay strong.

CELLINI: A World Series victory showed us all just how strong.


BROWN: So what do you think the biggest news story of 2013 was? Tell us. We want to know. In fact, voting is under way at Click on the page and then you'll see a list of 20 stories, the ones that really had us talking this year. From this list, we want you to choose 10. And then, on December 30th, at 9:00 a.m. eastern time, online and on TV, we'll reveal the top-10 stories of 2013 as voted on by you, our viewers.

Well, this is a big day in theaters. Here's a list of some movies opening today. Martin Scorcese's "Wolf on Wall Street," staring Leonardo DiCaprio; Keanu Reeve's new film "47 Ronan"; "Grudge Match," starring Robert DeNiro and Sylvester Stallone; Ben Stiller directs and stars in the "Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

So what do you do with all those frequent flyer miles if you don't need them? If you're like my next guest, you give them away. And more than that. Up next, meet the man whose generous gift is changing families' lives this holiday season.

We'll be right back.


BROWN: The man flies about a quarter of a million miles a year. So you can understand why he doesn't want to be on another airplane this holiday season.

We're talking about Peter Shankman. He joins us now.

You may have seen him right here on CNN explaining how to improve companies and their branding. But for the second year in a row, Peter is making great use of his frequent flyer miles. He's donating them to those who otherwise couldn't afford them.

And we also have a lucky couple with us today. Sarah Ashley and Indiana Jones. Got to love that name. They were chosen to receive one of the free flights thanks to Peter's efforts. And they join us live from Nashville.

Thank you all for being here with us.

Peter, want to start with you.

Unbelievable how you had this idea to use your frequent flyer miles because you had some leftover. You wanted to send four people home. This has grown to 28 flights this year. Tell us how this idea originated.

PETER SHANKMAN, ENTREPRENEUR & AUTHOR: It's pretty crazy. Last year, I fly about a quarter million miles. I'm on a plain 270 days a year. Last year, I said let me see if I can post on my blog and see if I can help a few people out. I gave away four trips. The people were overwhelmed. Let me do it again this year. I posted and it got picked up by a couple of people. Some people said we want to donate our miles. Then we were up to ten trips and then JetBlue said we want to give you 10 trips. Anywhere we fly. It kept snowballing. We were able to send 28 people who otherwise couldn't afford to get home for the holidays. The last thing I want to do when I'm home is go anywhere. I want to hang out with my wife and kid. Last thing I want to do is get on a plane. It was great. It was great.

BROWN: What a great way to get back. Because of your efforts, Sarah and Indiana are together right now. They otherwise may not be together on this had day.

Sarah, you had to submit reasons why you and your husband should be reunited. Tell us a little bit about your story.

SARAH ASHLEY JONES, RECEIVED FREQUENT FLYER MILES: Well, my husband is in the Army. And we haven't spent a Christmas together since 2010 just due to training and he stayed for in Korea for a little over a year and didn't get to come home and then came home for about 20 days and then got stationed in Washington. And so it just has been about three years of not really being able to see each other and no holidays, no industries and I just really missed him and really wanted to spend a holiday with him.

BROWN: And Indiana, I can imagine you were just so beyond happy when you found out you were going to be able to fly back home to be with Sarah. Tell is when you found out you were going to be able to be together this holiday.

INDIANA JONES, U.S. ARMY: She sent me a text message. I think I was busy with work and called me later. At first, I didn't believe her. Then when I found out she was serious and people were posting about it, I was just overwhelmed and ecstatic that we were afforded this opportunity to be together for the holidays.

BROWN: Peter, you were inundated with stories. How did you choose the winners?

SHANKMAN: Last year, I did this, and the stories that came in broke my heart. People hadn't seen their families in years. This year I did what any honorable person would do and made my assistant pick. (LAUGHTER)

She narrowed it down to 50 and we sat down with a bottle of wine and went through the stories like Sarah's. She was honest and said, I just want to see my husband. I have a special place in my heart for the military. It was great to be able to do that. Other people, we sent a grandson to see his grandmother for the first time in 10 years. We sent a woman hope to what she thought was going to be hanging out with her boyfriend but he's proposing. It was really, really good stuff.

BROWN: Your poor assistant. I can imagine that was an incredibly tough task having to boil it down.


SHANKMAN: She got a really good Christmas bonus this year.

BROWN: I hope you gave her a nice present.

Sarah and Indiana, I want to hear from you how special this has been for both of you to be able to spend this Christmas together.

SARAH ASHLEY JONES: I didn't hear the question.


It's just been -- it's been great. We've been able to go see family. We're actually on our way. We have some family down about a couple hours away. We're going to spend Christmas with them and got to spend Christmas Eve with our neighbors. It's nice to be able to spend time together.

BROWN: Peter, we hope this will be an annual tradition.


BROWN: Peter Shankman, Sarah Ashley and Indiana Jones, thank you all for being on the show.

Happy holidays and thank to all the viewers who joined us here on "Legal View." Have a great day, everyone.