Kellie Pickler commemorated her first three USO tours by prominently tattooing the outlines of three small stars on her arm. Now she’s in the middle of planning her fourth trip — but hasn’t reserved her chair at the tattoo parlor just yet.
During a recent visit to CMT, she was asked if she’ll maintain her patriotic inking.
“I don’t know if I’ll keep doing it because I might have the whole flag on my arm,” she replied. “That wouldn’t be a bad thing, but I don’t know that I would look very good with a sleeve. I just kind of play it by ear. My first three trips were very memorable, and even if I don’t add a star, I’m not going to forget that I went.”
Pickler has already toured Iraq, Germany, Kosovo, England, Afghanistan and Kuwait on behalf of the organization which has brought live entertainment overseas to U.S military bases since 1941. The former American Idol contestant also fashioned her latest video, “Makin’ Me Fall in Love Again,” with a nod to the glamorous pinup girls who brought satisfaction to an earlier generation of soldiers.
“I love being able to travel and take a little piece of home to them because so many of them are just really missing home and haven’t been home for months — and sometimes years — at a time,” she said. “It’s good to be in a position where I can provide a little entertainment and break up the monotony and just take home to them. It was really neat that we got to tie in a ’40s theme with the video and tie in the USO tour along with it.”
Pickler, who recently announced her engagement to songwriter Kyle Jacobs, is currently working on a new album and opening shows on Rascal Flatts’ tour.
Asked why it’s important for her to keep accepting the USO’s invitations despite a packed schedule, she said, “I think it’s such an incredible learning experience, and I’ve had family that were in the service before. I have a lot of friends that are in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. That’s probably one of the wildest things — to go to Afghanistan and see someone I went to high school with or worked at Sonic with. … I feel like if I didn’t take advantage of that opportunity, I’d miss out on a blessing, and so would they.
“It’s the least I can do. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to sit in this nice office and talk and hang out. I just feel like it’s a respect thing for my country and for the people serving it. I can’t imagine not doing it.”
Pickler’s sassy debut single, 2006’s “Red High Heels,” announced to the world that she’s quite fond of stylish footwear. Yet she’s become a practical packer for her USO trips.
“I think the more I do it, the more I simplify what I bring,” she said. “Like any woman, I always tend to pack way too much. I remember the first time I went out there, I was taking stilettos and all my heels and all this fancy stuff. I got there and I did not take off my boots — I did not wear heels. I wore my combat boots. I was ready for battle! … You take things that are comfortable, that you can move around in, because you are jumping in and out of helicopters and these big trucks and tanks. It’s dusty and dirty. There’s just a lot of dirt. Comfort is the main thing.”
Although she admittedly reacts to the early call times of the USO tours with a steady diet of coffee and Red Bull, the plucky North Carolina native noted she prefers laid-back, acoustic performances with her guitarists. Of course, she’s always happy to shake hands and pose for photos with the troops before and after her shows, no matter where she is.
“You get to go to a lot of the camps that have never had any entertainment,” she said. “You get to go to a lot of the smaller areas too that are a lot more confined. You couldn’t go in the middle of Baghdad and set up a stage and bring your big amps and all of that, so we stripped things down and make it more intimate. It makes it more memorable, too, and I think they like it a lot better.”