Carrie Underwood, Hank Williams Jr., Jake Owen, John Rich and Rodney Atkins all responded enthusiastically when they learned of plans for the Salute to the Troops concert taking place at Fort Campbell, Ky. Organizers from the U.S. Army MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) expected 30,000 people to show up, but attendance was ultimately estimated at more than 75,000.
Prior to their Friday night (Aug. 14) performances, Underwood, Williams and Owen talked to CMT Insider about the importance of thanking the troops and their families for the sacrifices they’ve made.
While the Fort Campbell concert was a family-oriented event, Underwood has sung for military personnel in a much different environment.
“When we were in Iraq, most of them were packing heat. … I’d never played in front of an audience where everybody had a weapon on them,” she said. “Hopefully, I don’t think they’re packing tonight.”
Underwood has found added meaning to her music after singing for military personnel.
“It made a lot of my songs more real to me,” she explained. “I sing songs like ’Jesus, Take the Wheel,’ and now I sing ’Just a Dream,’ and it is an eye-opening experience. The most amazing thing when we went over there [to Iraq and Afghanistan] was that people kept thanking us for being there. And I was kind of like, ’Well, I get to go home in a week, and you’re still here. So thank you.'”
Underwood has also been inspired by the commitment of those she’s met at military installations overseas.
“They’re over there doing what nobody else wants to do,” she said. “Once again, when we were over there, we thanked them for what they did, and everybody was like, ’That’s our job. That’s why we’re here. We believe in what we’re doing.’ And we saw so many good things going on. Of course, we’d rather have them home, but there’s good stuff going on. We’re appreciative.”
Most performers strive to be the closing act at concerts, but Williams wasn’t worried about such matters when he got the opportunity to appear at Fort Campbell.
“I just got on board 10 days ago,” he said. “They said, ’Well, you’ll have to go on early,’ and I said, ’I don’t care when I go on. I’m gonna go out there and do my thing.’ We’ve got a brand new song … called ’Forged by Fire’ that’s all about these guys. And it’s so new, I hope the guys know it. But we’re gonna play that song before I go on because ’Forged by Fire’ is about them.”
Williams still remembers a friend who shared a story about serving in the Army during World War II just days before D-Day.
“My next door neighbor when I was a little boy in Nashville … was in the 101st Airborne — Leon Moe Harlin,” he said. “And on the night of June 5, 1944, he was in one of the gliders. He told me about what happened over there. So that was kind of the father figure growing up, so I’m here for a reason. … Unlike too many other people today in our political thing, I don’t look down on our military. I look up at them — at everybody who was in. That’s why I’m here.”
Several of Owen’s friends and relatives are currently serving in the military.
“This is an amazing thing to be here on this homecoming of all the guys and gals who have been over serving for us,” he said. “It’s a great thing. I’ve got so many friends and family — and guys and girls that I went to high school and college with — that are still overseas right now, that I don’t get to keep in touch with that often. So any chance I get to come out here and show my respect and support for these folks, I’ll always do that.”