FORT BRAGG, N.C. - In Nashville, Craig Morgan has quietly built an impressive resume consisting of back-to-back number one hits of country music. He has been dubbed "country music's stealth star," but being stealthy is something Morgan is all too familiar with.
Morgan, a former Fort Bragg Soldier will play a free concert for Fort Bragg Soldiers and their families Sept. 18. The Jack Daniel Distillery and the USO will enlist the help of military spouses and other volunteers at Fort Bragg Sept. 18 at noon to assemble 10,000 USO care packages.
The Jack Daniel's/USO "Toast to the Troops" Operation USO stuffing party will be followed by a special celebration concert by Morgan, as part of this years USO concert series. Morgan and Jack Daniel Distillery is helping out the USO by collecting personal messages of support and care packages for service men and women, who stuff the care packages to be sent to troops across the globe. The concert will kick off at 5 p.m. at Company B, 122nd Aviation Support Battalion's hangar on Simmons Army Airfield.
"Fort Bragg is very excited to host this 'Toast to the Troops' Stuffing Party,' said Col. David G. Fox, Fort Bragg's garrison commander. "Our community has always answered the call to assist our Soldiers and their families and with the concert by Craig Morgan, this is just one way we can show our appreciation for their assistance."
Morgan not only has an impressive music career but also an impressive 11-year military resume that includes completing Korean Ranger School, Air Assault, Airborne, Jumpmaster and HALO schools. He served as a forward observer for the 82nd Airborne Division's Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol team and with the 5th Special Forces Group.
During his time in the Army, Morgan's two major overseas deployments came in Operation Just Cause in Panama and Desert Storm in Iraq.
"I was actually stationed in Panama before Just Cause kicked off," Morgan said. "I set up an observation post on the golf course and watched the first coup attempt on Noriega and sent up situation reports."
A few months later, Operation Just Cause launched and Morgan was right there in the middle of the fighting.
"The actual combat, the actual fighting in Panama was a lot worse, at least for me, than Desert Storm was," he said.
Morgan would go on to write a song about his experiences in one of his first hits "Paradise."
Morgan has played guitar and sung since he was a young boy, but found little time to play while in the Army. Although in Korea, he did win several songwriting competitions and even played with Sawyer Brown in a show.
The training and the pace of the units he was involved with left little free time for music or for other things he loved like fishing and hunting.
"I mean, I always played. We'd play at night ... goofed around in the barracks and stuff but I never played seriously," he said. "I never played at bars or clubs or anything like that while I was in the Army. I was too busy being a Soldier and I loved doing it."
When he left the Army and headed back home, it was several years before Morgan was able to crack the Nashville scene. Home, fortunately for Morgan, was Kingston Springs, Tenn., about 35 miles west of Nashville.
"That was the one thing I thought when I left the Army, 'if this don't work, at least I'll be home,'" Morgan said. "I worked as a sheriff's deputy, construction, I worked at Wal-Mart - I did everything."
Although Morgan plays over 200 sold out concerts a year, he always finds time to do USO shows. He has played four tours that went to bases all over Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I enjoy (the USO shows)," he said. "I know if it weren't for you guys continuing to do what you do, and having done it - I know what it's like, then we wouldn't be able to celebrate the lifestyle that we celebrate in this country. I know that sounds so clichAfA - but it's the truth."
Morgan has performed at every Jack Daniel's/USO Toast to the Troops event and has entertained troops in Iraq on the USO's Sergeant Major of the Army holiday tour. Morgan is also a recipient of the USO Merit Award, presented by the USO of Metropolitan Washington, an honor shared by the late Bob Hope.
Since 2005, the distillery has been collecting personal messages of support in the form of "toasts" to include in USO care packages, and has hosted seven other "stuffing parties" at military installations across the country. The care packages also include prepaid international calling cards, toiletries, sunscreen and other items specifically requested by the deployed service men and women.
"I know first hand how much care packages and messages from home mean to our Soldiers overseas," said Morgan. "When Jack Daniel's asked me to join up with them for 'Toast to the Troops' three years ago, I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to be a part of. Working so closely with the troops' families is great and getting to be with the Soldiers when the packages arrive has been unbelievably rewarding."
Anyone wishing to send toasts to service members can go to www.jackdaniels.com and www.usocares.org to fill out the special toasts that will be included in USO care packages for troops deploying to Afghanistan, Iraq and other overseas locations, as well as troops arriving and departing on rest and recuperation flights.
Because of heightened security, individuals can no longer send letters and packages addressed to "Any Service Member." Operation USO Care Package program is approved by the Department of Defense and it's the the best way to send a message of encouragement directly to a service member.
The USO has sent out more than one million care packages since the program's inception in 2001.
More information on the Operation USO Care Package program and other USO programs can be found at www.uso.org.