There's no shortage of country songs that tribute the military. From Billy Ray Cyrus' devastating "Some Gave All" to David Ball's "Riding With Private Malone," songs that acknowledge the incredible sacrifice of American soldiers has become a staple of the country genre.
While there are country music artists who continue to actively show their support for the U.S. troops through their work, the connection to the military runs much deeper for a handful of other country stars.
Before tapping into fame, a few stars actually spent their time serving their country. From Craig Morgan, who recently re-enlisted in the Army, to Zach Bryan, who served in the Navy for 8 years before being honorably discharged to chase his dreams as a singer-songwriter, some of country music's biggest stars have served their country.
"I'm excited to once again serve my country and be all I can be in hopes of encouraging others to be a part of something greater than ourselves," Morgan said of his new appointment in July. "I love being an artist but I consider it a true privilege and honor to work with what I believe are the greatest of Americans, my fellow soldiers. God Bless America. Go Army."
Here are 11 country artists who are veterans.
Craig Morgan has worn many hats in his lifetime, and some of them were donned in the military. The veteran spent nearly two decades collectively serving in both active duty and in the reserves, and working his way up in the ranks where he eventually became staff sergeant.
Although the country music singer could have possibly retired with the Army, he chose to follow his musical talent into a career after gaining enough positive feedback from a large number of fellow army men.
In 2023, Morgan re-enlisted in the army onstage at the Grand Ole Opry.
"I feel like an 18-year-old kid, I can tell you," Morgan told NBC News. "I'm excited, nervous. But humbled. I'm humbled for the opportunity."
During the Korean War in the 1950s, the legendary George Jones was a U.S. Marine stationed in California. Although "The Possum" was never actually deployed during the war, he served there for three years. The singer cut his first song, "No Money in This Deal" following his military role.
Willie Nelson's journey to country music stardom may have taken awhile, but his time spent in the military was cut short due to back problems. Before ever collaborating with Johnny Cash, both the "Red Headed Stranger" and the "Man in Black" singers trained at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
Years later, Nelson continues to show his support for military troops. In 2014, he joined President Barack Obama to honor soldiers during the "A Salute to Troops: In Performance at the White House" PBS taping.
Kris Kristofferson kept the family tradition alive during his time in the Army following in his father Lars' footsteps. Prior to joining, however, he received a degree at Pomona College and earned a Rhodes Scholarship to study further at Oxford University.
During his time spent in the military, Kristofferson worked his way up in the ranks from helicopter pilot to Captain, and spent time stationed in West Germany. Although the star was offered the opportunity to teach English in the Army, he chose to follow his dream of becoming an artist.
Unlike some artists who find their music talent during breaks in the military, Jerry Reed tapped into the music world prior to enlisting. However, when his career didn't take off like he'd hoped, the rockabilly star joined the army.
During his two years of service, Reed played in a band called Circle A Wrangler and even got his creative juices flowing penning a No 1. hit-song for Porter Wagoner. Following the military, the singer signed with Columbia Records, and the rest is history!
The Texas native enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1971 where he served for four years and honed his musical craft playing in the bands Rambling Country and Santee. Post military, George Strait showed his support for the military by raising funds for troops in more ways than one.
On every stop of his Cowboy Rides Away tour, the "Troubadour" singer, along with Bank of America, Quicken Loans and the Military Warriors Support Foundation, selected one wounded war hero and gifted them with a brand new home.
James Otto, who was born on the Fort Lewis Army Base in Washington State served in the U.S. Navy for two years. Keeping it all in the family, the "Soldier and Jesus" singer followed in the footsteps of both his grandfather, a Korean War veteran and his father, an Army drill sergeant.
While there are a handful of country artists that enlisted in the military shortly after high school, Jamey Johnson chose to enlist later on in life. The "In Color" singer dropped out of college to join the U.S. Marine Corps before becoming a country music star. He served for eight years, and climbed his way up in the ranks as Corporal.
The late Conway Twitty could have easily been considered a triple threat in his early days. Born Harold Lloyd Jenkins, the singer was not only talented in the musical arena, he was also a gifted baseball player, too. Drafted during the Korean War, Jenkins delayed an offer to play for the Philadelphia Phillies.
During his time in the military and in a twist of fate, the "Hello Darlin'" singer fine tuned his musical skills with the country band, Cimarrons. After serving time, the singer turned down a second Phillies contract to follow his true passion. He then jumped a few record labels before earning his legendary status with more than 50 hit-songs.
Johnny Cash, whose military name was John R. Cash, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1950. After time spent training at Lackland Air Force Base (the same base as Willie Nelson) and Brooks Air Force Base, Cash's role was to intercept information via Morse Code in Landsberg, Germany.
While in the military, Cash may have been one of the first to learn about Joseph Stalin's death. He also kept busy harnessing his musical craft by writing the hit song, "Folsom Prison Blues" and forming a band called "The Landsberg Barbarians."
The "Something in the Orange" singer-songwriter Zach Bryan served in the U.S. Navy for 8 years before being honorably discharged to pursue his music career.
"I joined the Navy as a 17 year old kid. It's all I lived, slept and ate for eight years, it's been all I knew since I was basically a snot-nosed child. It made a man out of me, truly," Bryan wrote on Instagram. "I ran with some big dogs, saw a few fights, out drank the best of them, but more importantly, got to serve along side some of the best men and women I was ever blessed enough to meet. If it was my decision, I would never get out of the worlds greatest Navy, but here I am and they kindly honorably discharged me to go play some music. Can't tell if I'm a coward or if I'm chasing a dream but regardless, the best eight years of my life were spent serving the best country in the whole damn world. Thank you guys and I'll see you on tour."
This article was originally published in 2017. It was updated on Nov. 10, 2023.
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