NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The minute country star Craig Morgan returns from entertaining U.S. troops in the Middle East, he wants to go back — not to perform but to serve.
"Once a soldier, always a soldier," Morgan told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
Before he launched a successful music career, he spent 10 years active duty in the Army and continued his service for nine years in the Reserves. He was stationed in Panama from 1989-90 and was part of the military operation that removed dictator Manuel Noriega from power.
The terrorist attack on Sept. 11 struck a particular nerve with Morgan. Since 9/11, he has made nine trips overseas to entertain U.S. troops and hosted more than a dozen events at military bases stateside.
"For me as an entertainer now, it's very weird," said Morgan. "I come home after a trip overseas to Iraq or Afghanistan, and every time I come home, my wife says, 'Why don't you just go back in and quit your pouting?' because I have such a weird feeling going back as an entertainer, having served for so long. It's just really weird to be on this side of the fence."
At the same time, Morgan is also grateful for his successful music career, because he has been able to support veterans and military families in a way that he could never do as a soldier.
Morgan was one of the first artists to perform in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion. He said they were still sweeping up glass in the Kandahar airport when he arrived.
"9/11 changed my life the way it changed every body's life. We will forever be impacted by this," he said. "I'll no longer be able to stand at a (airport) gate and wait for my family to come in. I have to wait outside the gates. The security that has been put into place now we're going to live with forever, and like everyone else, I will never ever forget the visual of those airplanes hitting those towers, and just the impact that that's had on our society. I only pray that it doesn't happen again."
Morgan was awarded the 2006 USO Merit Award for his support of the military. He is known for hits such as "That's What I Love About Sunday," ''Redneck Yacht Club," and "Bonfire."
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