Country stars Trace Adkins and Brantley Gilbert talk about why support for the military is so important to them, and what they’re doing to make a difference.
The country music community is known for supporting the military. Singers Trace Adkins and Brantley Gilbert exemplify that commitment.
Adkins, 57, who’s been a country star for over two decades, has sold 11 million albums, won numerous CMT and ACM awards and has nearly 200 million plays on YouTube. But the artist is particularly honored to give back to members of the military and veterans.
“I think of myself as a citizen that’s very appreciative of the sacrifices and the work these men and women do,” he says. “They’re great people and they’re doing noble work.”
Adkins’ support for the military started early in his career when he went on his first USO tour in 2002 to Bahrain. “After that first trip, I was hooked. They were some of the most appreciative audiences that you’ll ever play for.” Since then, he’s been on a total of 12 USO tours, visiting over 65,000 service members across the globe, including performances at military installations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Japan, Germany, Italy, and Spain.
Respect for the armed forces is a common theme in the singer’s music. “The last few albums we’ve always tried to include a song that pays tribute to the men and women that serve,” he says. “I appreciate them. They’ve got my back and I want to let them know, I’ve got theirs too.”
In 2016, Adkins received the National Defense Industrial Association’s Dwight D. Eisenhower Award for his exceptional leadership and advocacy for service members. He also supports other veterans’ projects and organizations, including the Wounded Warrior Project. But Adkins is humble. “I’m not going to pat myself on the back too hard,” he says. “I just do what I can and hopefully it’ll help.”
Gilbert is always looking for opportunities to help veterans. The singer, songwriter and producer says his maternal grandfather and several of his uncles served in the military. He recalls his mother saying his Uncle Jimmy had a hard time when he came home.
Years later, a few of Gilbert’s friends went into the service and one of them struggled. “That was the first time that it really hit home,” he says. “Because it was someone I knew well before they left, well enough to know that they were a lot different when they got back.”
That experience motivated Gilbert to see how he could help veterans. He and his wife Amber work with the Atlanta Humane Society to place companion service dogs with vets in need.
He also suggests getting to know a vet on a personal level. “You never know, you might end up with a close friend like I did,” says Gilbert, who formed a strong friendship with Staff Sergeant Justin Patterson, a veteran Army sniper.
Patterson, who was injured when a roadside bomb hit his vehicle, has PTSD. The two met through the Wounded Warrior Project and talk several times a week. Patterson gave Gilbert one of his three Purple Hearts and credits the singer with helping save his life.
“It is safe to say that any work I do with active duty or veterans has always been life changing and not just a little bit,” says Gilbert.