Most training camp practices end with a few players heading over to the Patriots Foundation tent to sign autographs and take pictures. The guests during Friday's practice were of particular interest to Deatrich Wise Jr. and Joe Cardona. Friday's guests were the families and loved ones of fallen war heroes.
For Deatrich and Joe, the military holds a special place for them. Joe graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and now holds the rank of Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Deatrich, on the other hand, is connected to the military through his mom, who served as an Army nurse for 22 years. David Andrews, N'Keal Harry and Jarrett Stidham also stopped by the tent after practice.
This year will be the third Patriots training camp for the TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) organization. It's become an emotional and rewarding tradition for both parties over the past couple of years. Organizations like TAPS always stand out to Deatrich and make him proud to be on a team like the Patriots.
"It really is a great feeling to know that I'm on a team that honors people who serve for our country. Definitely, the TAPS organization have lost loved ones to military war and all that goes into it," Deatrich said. "It's just a great thing what they do to give back and let them know that we are with them in this time and we're with them when they lose people. They can come watch us practice, come to our games, etc. We're here for them, as they're here for us."
TAPS's goal is to help the surviving family members of those lost in war. The support can range from companionship during grief work to getting the benefits their family needs. That's how Jessica Harper first connected with TAPS.
"I joined TAPS in 2008 after my sister's fiancé, Staff Sergeant Michael Hullender, was killed in Iraq in 2007," Jessica said. "TAPS openly embraced my family."
Eventually, Jessica decided to join TAPS in their mission. Jessica's particular sector of TAPS, teams4taps, helps connect families with the sports and entertainment industry.
"We create opportunities for families to honor their fallen heroes with their favorite sports teams like the Patriots and also those in the entertainment industry. So, we kind of get to bring the joy," Jessica added.
For people like Melanie Cargilo, coming to training camp means more than just watching her favorite football team practice. Melanie's brother, Captain Matthew August, died in Iraq in 2004. Matthew was a huge Patriots fan. According to her, training camp is an emotional time of healing that reminds her that Matthew is always with her.
"I feel like when I'm able to come to these events that he's with me as well, and I'm carrying on for him," Melanie said. "I just know how much he would absolutely love it."