Kellie Pickler, a longtime supporter of U.S. military members and an eight-time USO tour veteran, has been selected as the first-ever recipient of the Operation Troop Aid Chris Kyle Patriot Award.
The award, formerly the Operation Troop Aid Patriot Award, was renamed this year in Kyle’s honor, the late Navy SEAL and subject of the box-office hit American Sniper movie. Operation Troop Aid is a non-profit military care package charity, dedicated to inspiring troops by showing that regular Americans stand with them.
For her commitment to entertaining U.S. troops stationed around the world, Pickler will be presented with the award by Kyle’s parents, Wayne and Deby, following her onstage performance of the national anthem during CMA Music Festival’s June 13th concerts at LP Field.
Asked what the honor means to her in an interview with Rolling Stone Country just hours after getting the news, Pickler struggled to maintain her composure.
“I. . .am. . .wow,” she says, taking a deep breath. “I think it will be by far the most incredible thing I’ve been able to be a part of in my career, absolutely. We have worked with the USO for years and it’s something that means so much to me.”
With service members in her family as well as countless friends, Picker believes strongly that every citizen has a duty to serve those who serve them, reflecting the personal mantra of Kyle himself.
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“I didn’t get in line to work with the USO and the Wounded Warrior Foundation and all the other organizations to be patted on the back for it,” Pickler says. “So for me, that evening is not about me. It’s about all of our servicemen and women and their families and the sacrifices they’ve made.
“I just think it’s so important that our servicemen and women and our veterans and their families know that what they do, we don’t take for granted,” she continues. “It will be a special night and I’m looking forward to it, but I’m also a little nervous.”
Pickler says just being in the presence of Kyle’s family will be an emotional moment, and she hopes that the 50,000 or so fans in the stands will help her show her appreciation.
“My number one goal that night is to make sure [Kyle’s parents] and his wife know that we do not take what Chris did for granted,” she says.
Asked why she keeps going back to spend time with the troops, Pickler says seeing what those men and women go through firsthand has changed her forever.
“Of course we love that moment of performing and being onstage and looking out and seeing a sea of soldiers or Marines or airmen. . .but I think the best moments are before the show when we go to the chow house and have a meal and just talk with the soldiers and hear about where they came from,” she says. “I’ve met so many soldiers who just watched the birth of their firstborn over Skype, you know? . . . Being in Kandahar in Christmas and having a soldier say, ‘Hey, will you watch my son open his Christmas present?’ It’s like, ‘Are you kidding me? Of course. Let’s sit and watch them open every present.’ I wish I could bottle that feeling and give it to people.”
Pickler, who recently performed at the Grand Ole Opry’s Salute the Troops Night, is gearing up for the release of her new single, “Feeling Tonight.” She’s also currently filming episodes of her new CMT reality series with husband Kyle Jacobs.