Before launching his music career in 2000, Craig Morgan logged 10 years with the U.S. Army, where he earned his stripes as a soldier of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The country singer still spends plenty of time on army bases, thanks to a series of concerts that have taken his band to military camps in war-torn countries like Iraq and Kuwait. Morgan recently returned home from Afghanistan — his 12th time visiting the American troops overseas — and gave Rolling Stone Country a peek at pictures from the trip, adding his own commentary along the way.
The morale is unbelievable. We go over there to thank them, but in the end, they're always so gracious and thanking us. We're only there for 10 days, but they think we're doing such a big thing for them. And we say, "No, you guys are making great sacrifices; you are why we're here." I'm always so humbled by their respect and their appreciation.
When you're flying, they require you to have those flak vests on. It's still a hostile environment. It's important to have that protection.
Helicopters were our way of getting around. Mostly Blackhawks. [We'd visit] all of the smaller bases that don't get much entertainment. We went to one installation when we got there, and the guys said the last time anyone was there was when we were there one year before. [Laughs]
We tell jokes, tell stories, play songs. Those shows encompass what we like to do better than anything else, because you get to do it all. You're conversing back and forth. There's interaction. It's real.
"If Not Me" is one of the new cuts on The Journey. If it affects 1% of the people who hear it as much as it affects me, it's gonna be a wildfire thing. I just love the chorus: "If not there, then where? If not now, then when? If not this, then what else can I defend?" That's truly the mindset of the people who do this… the people who are truly willing to sacrifice not only their time and efforts, but their lives, for the safety and security of this nation. It's just one of those songs that moves you.
The troops, from the generals all the way down to the privates… they all feel like Afghanistan has the ability to somewhat stand on its own. It's really weird. It's kind of like taking a 12-year-old kid and teaching him how to deal with the government, and then when they're 15 or 16, saying, "Ok now, go do it [yourself]." They've only had a few years of stability in their society. The good news is, I think they're at that point. I think we can see a reduction of troops in that area, but we've gotta be real careful.
That's the 82nd Airborne Flag. That's the unit I was in, and I take a lot of pride in that. I think they take pride in that, too!
They're so excited to have someone there. There's guys that have never listened to country music, but they'll come listen to us sing. They're starved for entertainment.
[In America], we are doing certain things on a daily basis that [the soldiers] don't do. Their daily conversation is different. They're not talking about the same things we are, like trees and hunting and Starbucks and families and restaurants. Our daily conversation is so different, so they're excited just to hear us talk about these things at home.
My shoulder was so jacked up! This was pre-surgery. Once I started shooting, the momentum of the recoil held the weapon in the air, so I didn't really have to use my left arm.
These moon pies… you would've thought I'd given those guys a million dollars each. They don't get moon pies in the PX over there.