WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 14, 2008) - Some of the music industry's hottest singers and bands are set to release a free CD of their top hits for servicemembers and their families for the second year in a row Nov. 25.

More than 200,000 CDs will be distributed to servicemembers in Iraq, Afghanistan, military hospitals, installations and other locations, and the music will also be available for download for about four months on the Army and Air Force Exchange Service Web site.

"I think it's important, especially now that the troops and the military's not front-page news, to continue to appreciate and support and show our troops that we love them," said John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting, the project's organizer. "I don't want this to be out-of-sight, out-of-mind, and I don't want to just be making these projects when the troops are on every cable show and that's the whole discussion. Peacetime, wartime, in between, we need to keep doing stuff like that. So hopefully there will be a 'CD for the Troops III' and we'll keep it going."

The idea came last year when a local band asked him to contribute to a CD they were sending to Soldiers in Iraq, and he knew the project could be much bigger. So Ondrasik called some friends like Jewel and Josh Groban and asked for their help. After a lot of legal and military red tape, they distributed 200,000 CDs last year, and another 350,000 songs were downloaded. This year, he added, he put the word out throughout the industry to see who would be interested.

"People started calling, 'Hey, we've got a song.' I think one of the nice things about this project is that (it goes) across the political spectrum, it's not just one genre, and I think probably that's the best way to leave it. I didn't want people to feel pressured. I just said, 'Hey, if you've got a song, let's do it for the troops,' and to the credit of these artists, they stood up," said Ondrasik.

The songs and artists are:

Aca,!Ac 3 Doors Down - When I'm Gone
Aca,!Ac Daughtry - Home
Aca,!Ac Five for Fighting - Freedom Never Cries
Aca,!Ac Good Charlotte - I Don't Want to Be in Love (Dance Floor Anthem)
Aca,!Ac Gretchen Wilson - California Girls
Aca,!Ac Isaac Hayes - Theme From Shaft
Aca,!Ac Joe Perry - Shakin' My Cage
Aca,!Ac Josh Groban - Machine
Aca,!Ac Jude - I Think It's Time (Everything's Alright)
Aca,!Ac Keith Urban - Everybody
Aca,!Ac Maroon 5 - Won't Go Home Without You
Aca,!Ac Ray Orbison - In Dreams
Aca,!Ac Alan Jackson - Where I Come From
Aca,!Ac Trace Adkins - Fightin' Words.

One of the first questions he gets from servicemembers, he said, is whether the artists listed are the real artists. They absolutely are, he said, and this is their way of saying "Thank you."

He contributed "Freedom Never Cries" to the project, a song that talks about how freedom isn't free and that people don't realize what Soldiers mean until they need them. Ondrasik said this really struck him when he was playing the song during a United Services Organization trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"I was playing on the Cuban shores, literally within a hundred yards of the prison down there," he remembered. "I was up on this big cement block and there were maybe a hundred (National) Guardsmen in front of me...I was sitting there singing and looking at the troops in front of me and I saw the gates that separated free land from land that wasn't free and just above the bar of this club called Survivor, you could see the moonlight and the American flag flying, and I was singing 'Freedom Never Cries,' and it all kind of hit me at that moment. This is real, this is not an article I'm reading in the paper, this is not a hypothetical discussion. You have terrorists here, troops here, we're in Cuba and I'm singing a song about freedom ... I kind of choked up and that experience, to me, was profound. It was a moment I won't forget."

Ondrasik has been on three USO tours. He said he would like to go to Iraq, but that so many artists are lined up waiting to visit servicemembers there and in Afghanistan, he would rather go to places like GTMO or Guam, places where troops don't get much entertainment, because they're doing their job as well and need morale boosters as much as anyone else.

He has also visited Walter Reed and said he was truly inspired by the wounded Soldiers he met. "Basically, just the courage and the stoic nature of our troops is amazing. You come out of there going, 'Man, I'm glad they're on my side.'"

He added that all of these experiences are inspirational, that it's not hard to find a lot of good songs when he's with Soldiers. In fact, he said a song on his next album was inspired by his trip to Guantanamo.

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