These musicians are collaborating this Christmas to benefit military families
(Photo: Courtesy of Duston Todd for BYUtv)

Grammy nominated artists John Ondrasik and Jim Brickman have teamed up to wish the troops a merry Christmas with a new single titled “Christmas Where You Are.”  The emotional tribute acknowledges what few other Christmas songs have previously: The sacrifice made by service members and their families while they’re deployed during the holidays.

Ondrasik, also known by his stage name Five for Fighting, and Brickman have both been longtime supporters of the military community.

After September 11, 2001, Ondrasik began receiving letters and emails from deployed service members who told him that they were listening to his hit song “Superman” before executing combat missions. Although he has no personal or family affiliation with the military, Ondrasik says he was humbled and felt compelled to reach out and give back. He began working with the USO, giving free concerts to service members, and later started raising money for the Gary Sinise Foundation, Fisher House, and Operation Homefront.

When he first volunteered with the USO, Ondrasik asked to be sent where no other entertainers wanted to go. He ended up in Guantanamo Bay, giving a concert to service members on 18-month rotations, and the experience affected him profoundly.

“Where I was standing, I could say anything I wanted because of the US soldiers there with me, ensuring my freedom,” Ondrasik said. “On the other side of that guard tower, people couldn’t. They didn’t have that privilege.”

Ondrasik was struck not only by how young the majority of men and women in uniform are, but by their humility: “When I would do these events, people would come up to me and ask for my autograph, but I felt like I should be asking for theirs.”

This deep sense of gratitude to those who protect and defend freedom resonates throughout “Christmas Where You Are” and was a motivating force in the song’s creation.

Brickman, whose career spans three decades and nearly 40 albums and who has recorded singles with the likes of Martina McBride and Lady Antebellum, is the son of an Army and National Guard veteran, and has also worked with the USO for many years. Although not personally acquainted before this project, Ondrasik and Brickman were known to each other through their philanthropic work with the military community, and, as fans of each other’s music, had eyed a collaboration for some time. A year and half ago, they began writing together and the fit was a natural one.

“I’ve been a huge fan of John’s for a long time,” Brickman said. “And we wanted [this collaboration] to be meaningful. We’re both in the same part of our careers, writing another hit song isn’t adding anything to our lives– we can both do that. We wanted to do something special.”

With their shared dedication to military-affiliated philanthropies and a sincere respect for those in uniform, a Christmas song for the troops came about organically.  “Jim has done so many Christmas songs with so many superstar artists,” Ondrasik said. “They’ve all been done. . .But when we started talking about a Christmas song for the troops, a light bulb went on.”

Both Ondrasik and Brickman were inspired to thank America’s military men and women for their service, and wanted to recognize that the holidays are a particularly emotional time for families and their service members who are separated by deployment. “We don’t wear a uniform, but we can write songs,” Ondrasik said. “This is our way of showing support.”

Brickman also noted that beyond the lyrics, which are unapologetically patriotic, music itself has a way of prompting healing and release that is often the catalyst for a lot of positive emotions and good in people’s lives. For military families stressed by deployments and separations during the holidays, he hopes this music can elicit a sense of peace.

“Music is a very powerful thing,” Brickman said. “It’s a lot like meditation. It allows your mind to wander, to heal.”

“Christmas Where You Are” was released across digital platforms on November 3 and is included in Brickman’s upcoming Christmas album, A Joyful Christmas, which will be released on November 11.

By Liesel Kershul