When he was stationed overseas during the U.S. invasion of Panama, music couldn’t be farthest from Craig Morgan’s mind. In 1989, Morgan was part of the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army during Operation Just Cause, where 57,684 U.S. troops were deployed in an effort to curb harassment of U.S. civilians and combat suspected drug trafficking. Twenty-three U.S. troops were killed, including 205 Panamanian troops and thousands of civilians.
Morgan left active duty in 1996, and since then has recorded five albums, including hit songs such as “International Harvester,” which reached No. 10 on Billboard’s Top Country Songs chart, and “Little Bit of Life,” which reached No. 7. Morgan most recently won Music Video of the Year at the annual Inspirational Country Music Awards for his hit single, “God Must Really Love Me,” off his 2008 album, “That’s Why.”
Since its inception in 2003, Morgan has participated in the Stars for Stripes program every year, visiting and playing music for the men and women of the U.S. armed forces overseas. Leaving on Oct. 25, Morgan will be joined by RCA recording artist, Chris Young, and Great American Country host, Nan Kelley, for a month-long tour of military bases and hospitals in Germany and Iraq. Country Music Pride caught up with Morgan before he took off, and discussed his experiences playing for the military, and why he loves his country.
CMP: Why have you made it such a priority to volunteer for this tour every year?
CM: It’s important that anybody that’s given a platform — and my platform is music — has the ability to thank the men and women in our armed forces. I have served, and I still have relationships [with people overseas]. We appreciate what they’ve done.
CMP: Are shows different for you when you play for the armed forces?
CM: It’s a lot different than a regular concert; there’s a little bit of tension. You’re in a hostile environment over there. The idea is for us to go over there and give them a taste of home. Maybe for a few minutes they can semi relax their minds and take a break from the reality of what’s going on over there. They know at any minute they can be killed, and we go over there to remind them of home.
CMP: What is it like for you to play for a group of soldiers that you, yourself once were?
CM: It’s very weird. Every time I go over there, I get these mixed emotions; I feel like I should still be there. I was active duty in the Army for almost 11 years. I still share whatever it is they have. It’s difficult; I have friends I served with that are still in. I see them over there, but there are times I struggle with it.
CMP: In what year did you join the Army?
CM: I joined the Army in 1985, and I left active duty in 1996, but I stayed in the reserves until 2004.
CMP: What made you join and eventually stay in it for 11 years?
CM: Free hunting clothes; [laughs] that was always part of it. The reality was, I grew up in a small town, and the army afforded me [the ability] to experience things in life. I thought I’d just stay in to get college assistance. I thought I’d go in and get college help and I ended up staying in it since I liked it. I don’t miss a lot of it, but the things I miss are the friendships. I still have a whole lot of those friendships — it’s different in the military. There’s a bond that’s not shared in any other occupation.
CMP: When you were enlisted, did you write songs and play music?
CM: Music’s always been a big part of my life, but it wasn’t my focus then. I’ve always written songs, even when I was in the military. I wasn’t thinking about the music or being a musician then. Even though I was writing songs and doing contests in the Army, I was just doing it because I enjoyed it. When I was stationed in Panama, prior to the invasion, I was sitting around in the barracks with my buddies and singing songs. I was mostly learning how to write songs back then.
CMP: What did you feel when you wrote the song “Paradise”?
CM: That was a song about my time in the Army. I was in Panama, Operation Just Cause, in 1989. It was about me being in Panama away from home. When you go over there it’s as real as it can get. I’ve written many country songs about my experiences in the military. I try really just to write about everyday life stuff now; those simple things. When I go over there, that’s the stuff [the soldiers] want to hear about. They want to hear about “cat-napping on the porch swing,” “International Harvester, “A Little Bit of Life.” That’s the stuff they want to hear about because that’s what they’re away from.
CMP: Why do you think so many people think it’s not “cool” to support the troops?
CM: It’s ignorance, is what it is. People that don’t support the men and women of our armed forces are ignorant. I don’t agree with everything our government does, but there are men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day that need our support. Even if you don’t agree with the administration, which I don’t always, we have to support the men and women to give them tools to be successful. If it weren’t for them standing ready to fight terrorism every day, we would be fighting right here at our home. People who don’t support are ignorant of the facts, and there are people out there running their mouths, and they’re not intelligent.