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By Lizann Lightfoot

Military patriotism and country music go together like … whiskey and beer. It’s no surprise that some classic country music singers got their start in the military. Even if you’re not into country music, you can’t help but be proud of these talented veterans.

1. Johnny Cash enlisted in the Air Force in 1950. While training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, he met Willie Nelson. Cash was later stationed in Landsberg, Germany, where he intercepted Morse Code transmissions. Consequently, he may have been one of the first Americans to learn of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s death. While in Germany, he formed a band called The Landsberg Barbarians and penned his signature song, “Folsum Prison Blues.”


2. Willie Nelson also trained at Lackland Air Force Base, and as mentioned, met a fellow airman there, John R. Cash. Nelson’s time in the military ended quickly because of back problems, but he was soon on the road again.His long music career includes collaborating with Johnny Cash and performing for troops at the White House.

3. George Strait, the “King of Country,” served in the Army for four years in the 1970s, joining right after he eloped with his high school sweetheart. During that time, he joined and performed in several bands. After the Army, Strait continued to support the military through his music career. He teamed up with Bank of America, Quicken Loans, and the Military Warriors Support Foundation, so that during every stop of his final Cowboy Runs Away tour in 2014, he gave a new home to a wounded veteran.

4. James Otto was a military brat in a military family. He was born on Fort Lewis Army Base, where his father served as a drill sergeant. His grandfather was a Korean War veteran. Otto served in the Navy for two years, before making waves in the country music world with songs like “Just Got Started Lovin’ You.”

5. Jamey Johnson dropped out of college to join the Marines Corps Reserves. He served for eight years as a mortarman and became a corporal. His initial self-released album had two songs that described his time in the Marines. When Johnson’s military contract ended, he started a new one with Mercury Nashville Records. His song “In Color” was the CMA’s Song of the Year in 2009.

6. Craig Morgan served 20 years as a forward observer in the Army before beginning a career as a country music star. He and his wife had four children together, and he is also famous for rescuing two children from a burning building in 2011. He started his country music career in 2000, and has produced hits like “Redneck Yacht Club” and “That’s What I Love about Sunday.”

7. Kris Kristofferson was an Army brat who followed in his father’s footsteps. After earning a degree in English Literature from Oxford University, he became an army captain, a helicopter pilot, and finished Ranger school. He was stationed in West Germany in the 1960s and received the Veteran of the Year award in 2003. Although he was offered a job teaching English in German schools or teaching at West Point, he decided to pursue a country music career. Kristofferson is known for his music and acting accomplishments. He acted in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and A Star is Born.

8. Josh Gracin dropped out of college after one year to enlist in the Marines. He soon married and was stationed at Camp Pendleton. During his time in the military, he auditioned for American Idol, Season 2. After four years as a Marine, Gracin became known for hits like “Nothin’ to Lose.”

9. Jerry Reed started out pursuing a music career, but when things didn’t work out, he enlisted in the Army, serving for two years. During that time, he played in a band called Circle a Wrangler and wrote his first number one hit song, “Soldier’s Joy”. Once he got out of the military, this “Guitar Man” signed with Columbia Records. Some of his songs were covered and performed by Elvis Presley.

10. George Jones,  “The Possum”, was a Marine in the 1950’s during the Korean War. He spent three years stationed in California but never deployed. He used his military time as inspiration for his first song, “No Money in This Deal.”


Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at lizann@militaryoneclick.com.

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