As part of the Los Angeles Rams' Salute to Service efforts, the team continued their partnership with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to honor and recognize 60 fallen service men and women from the Los Angeles region, who passed while serving in the armed forces or from injuries sustained while serving in the post 9/11 era.
The Rams hosted the families of these fallen service members at a private practice on Veteran's Day where they had the chance to meet the player that wore their family member's initials on his helmet during Sunday's Salute to Service game against the Houston Texans. The TAPS families then had the opportunity attend the Salute to Service game and were honored with the lighting of the iconic Coliseum torch during the pregame ceremony prior to kickoff.
For many of the TAPS members, attending a private practice provided unique opportunities for families to share the stories of their fallen family member to Rams players and team personnel. Touching and reflective moments were shared, as the mentions of names, memories, and passions were surfaced. There was a level of comfortability and ease in which the players and TAPS families engaged one another. Different stories were told and disparate perspectives were heard, yet all shared a common denominator that united them, the love of football and the appreciation for the sacrifices made by our service men and women.
"To the families it's especially important," said TAPS Manager Leigh Edmonds. "To hear their loved ones' names spoken, to see their initials on a helmet, to hear their story told is important because it means the story continues to live on."
As the widow of a fallen service hero and TAPS member, Heather Fankhauser was moved to know that the professional football players she sees on TV every Sunday were willing to take the time to show their gratitude and appreciation for their family member's dedication to serving our country.
"Getting to meet all of our players and them knowing who our husbands were and knowing about who they were, and just having a conversation with them, you see a real side of a person," said Fankhauser. "It's not just this person you see on TV every Sunday."
Wearing the initials "JF" on his helmet in honor of Fankhauser's husband was perennial Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Fankhauser and Donald spent some one-on-one time together chatting, laughing, and even scheming up a "sack dance" together in her and her husband's honor.
"I have to make up a dance for you when I get a sack," Donald said to Fankhauser before she proceeded to show him her favorite dance move, which he adopted quite naturally. "When you see me do that, it's for you," Donald told her before embracing her with a hug.
The opportunity to connect with those who have suffered the loss of loved ones battling overseas left a mark on Rams players and staff. The team's Salute to Service efforts are intended to support not just those who have lost friends and family, but all service men and women who sacrifice at great lengths for the freedoms and liberties of our Country.
"Salute to the Service, not just to these families, but all the families around the world that protect us every day," said star wide receiver Sammy Watkins. "I tip my cap to those guys because every day I can come out here to work with a free mind and it's because they do a great job with what they do."
For more information on the Rams' Salute to Service initiatives, please click here.