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Rams

Rams players gain perspective after meeting families of fallen service members

Orlando and Julian Salazar
Orlando Salazar and Julian Salazar attended Rams practice Saturday in honor of Omar Salazar, who died in 2010.
(Gary Klein / Los Angeles Time)

Orlando Salazar described it as the best day ever.

Lucas McCaddon said it made him happy and proud.

The two boys, ages 11 and 10, were among more than 100 people in attendance at the Rams training facility on Saturday for an opportunity to meet players and honor and share stories about loved ones who had died in service to the United States.

As part of the NFL’s Salute to Service initiative, the Rams coordinated with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) so that families could attend a walk-through in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers at the Coliseum.

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At the conclusion of the light workout, each player met with a family and received a photo button of their fallen service member. On Sunday, players will wear a decal with the initials of that person on their helmets, and families will help light the torch at the Coliseum.

Rookie quarterback Jared Goff, 22, will honor Israel Garcia, who died in 2008 at age 24 in Afghanistan.

“It was really eye-opening and special to meet [the family],” Goff said. “Most of the people that are lost are around my age…. The situation I’m in, I’m very thankful to be in it.

“It really puts life in perspective.”

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Bonnie Carroll, a veteran and surviving spouse of Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, founded TAPS in 1994 to help families grieving the loss of fallen heroes. More than 60,000 families are involved, Carroll said.

Last season, the Panthers held an event at a game in coordination with TAPS. Carroll said Coach Jeff Fisher and the Rams were the first team to welcome families to a walkthrough.

“This is an opportunity with the L.A. Rams to bring families out to let them know their loved one is not forgotten,” said Carroll, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. “To be honored by the Rams, by the players…. To have a day in the sunshine to come together and be with each other to remember their legacy.”

Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson presented Lucas McCaddon with an autographed helmet. He gave Lucas’ mother Leslie a pair of autographed pink cleats.

Cornerback Trumaine Johnson signs a helmet for Lucas McCaddon at Rams practice on Saturday.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson signs a helmet for Lucas McCaddon at Rams practice on Saturday.
(Gary Klein / Los Angeles Times )

Said Leslie, who lost her husband Michael in 2012:  “TAPS is an amazing organization, what they do for families. It’s not just the fun things, but helping us with benefits, helping us with grief.”

Julian Salazar of Rosamond attended with his nephew Orlando. They were there to honor brother and father Omar Salazar, on the sixth anniversary of his death in 2010. They met with rookie receiver Pharoh Cooper.

“It’s nice,” Julian said. “He’s a young guy just getting started. He was great.”

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Rams safety Cody Davis said the event made Salute to Service more meaningful.

“It’s just great to get out with these families, tell them thank you and hear their stories,” said Davis, who will honor Aaron Michael Allen. “We’ll have the initials on the back of our helmets and it gives us something to play for.”

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesklein


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