Here Are 12 Country Artists Who Served In The Military
Patriotism is a theme that runs through a large number of country songs, and there’s a good reason. Many country artists who served in the military did so before they became the stars we know and love today.
Country music artists represent all branches of the nation’s military. George Strait served in the Army, Johnny Cash was in the Air Force, and George Jones joined the Marines. While country artists have always been great at showing support for our troops, these men, among others, pledged their lives to Uncle Sam.
You may be surprised to learn about some of the country artists who served in the military.
12. Gene Autry – United States Army
“The Singing Cowboy” was one country artist who actually joined the military after he became famous. Autry was already a country music sensation and major movie star when he decided to enlist in the United States Army in 1942.
During his service, Autry became a tech sergeant in the United States Army Air Corps. He also had a private pilot’s license, and worked toward becoming a military pilot. He ended up serving as a C-109 transport pilot and flew during a dangerous operation over the Himalayas.
After he returned from the Army, Autry continued to dazzle audiences both on stage and on the screen. He became one of the most beloved cowboys of all time.
11. George Jones – United States Marine Corps
Did you know “The Possum” was one of many country artists who served our nation?
Jones enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at age 20 in 1951. He served for two years before he was discharged in 1953. He spent his entire service stationed in San Jose, California.
The future country star recorded his first song a year after his discharge, and the rest is history. He is now regarded as one of the greatest country artists of all time, with classic songs such as “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “White Lightnin’.”
10. Jamey Johnson – United States Marine Corps
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After attending college for two years, Jamey Johnson dropped out to join the United States Marine Corps. Johnson served in the Marines for a total of eight years, and went on to attain the rank of corporal.
He enjoyed playing music for his fellow marines, who encouraged him to pursue a music career. To this day, Johnson keeps in contact with many of the people he served with during his time in the military.
Johnson started playing country music in bars once he got out of the Marines. When he released his debut album he mentioned his military service in two of the songs.
9. Josh Gracin – United States Marine Corps
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You may know Josh Gracin as a finalist on the second season of American Idol. But it turns out the “Nothin’ to Lose” singer first served our country as a United States Marine.
Gracin was in the Marines when he auditioned for Idol in 2003. Once he finished the show he returned to finish his service.
Instead of joining his fellow Idols on tour after the show, Gracin travelled across the country for a year to promote the Marines and recruit new people to join. After he finished his duties, Gracin was honorably discharged in September 2004.
Since then, Gracin has released numerous hit singles, including “Stay with Me” and “We Weren’t Crazy.”
8. Zach Bryan – United States Navy
“Something in the Orange” singer Zach Bryan joined the United States Navy in 2013 when he was only 17 years old.
“It’s all I lived, slept and ate for eight years, it’s been all I knew since I was basically a snot-nosed child. It made a man out of me, truly,” Bryan said in a now-deleted Instagram post he shared in 2021 after he was honorably discharged.
Bryan started making and sharing music while he was in the Navy. He eventually left the service to pursue his music career full-time.
“If it was my decision, I would never get out of the worlds greatest Navy, but here I am and they kindly honorably discharged me to go play some music. Can’t tell if I’m a coward or if I’m chasing a dream but regardless, the best eight years of my life were spent serving the best country in the whole damn world.”
7. Johnny Cash – United States Air Force
Before he became one of the most legendary artists in music history, “The Man in Black” served in the United States Air Force. He enlisted on July 7, 1950, and was assigned to the U.S. Air Force Security Service at Landsberg, Germany as a Morse Code operator.
Cash’s main responsibility was to intercept Soviet Army transmissions. As a result, he was the first radio operator who picked up the news that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had passed away.
During his time overseas, Cash established his first band called The Landsberg Barbarians. The musical bug remained with him after his discharge on July 3, 1954, and he made his first records a little less than a year later.
6. Craig Morgan – United States Army
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Craig Morgan has always been a huge supporter of our troops. But did you know he was once in the military himself? He served in the United States Army for nine and a half years, and remained in the Army Reserve for six more.
Once he returned home, Morgan worked a series of odd jobs before he finally got his big break into the country music scene. Hit singles such as “That’s What I Love About Sunday” and “Redneck Yacht Club” helped him earn country stardom, and he was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in 2008.
Today, Morgan continues to show support for our troops by performing at military bases across the country and overseas. He’s also been on countless USO tours, and in 2006 he was awarded the USO Merit Award for everything he does for our troops.
Morgan reenlisted in 2023. He was sworn into the Army Reserve during a show at the Grand Ole Opry House.
5. Justin Holmes – United States Air Force
The country artist behind the viral hit “Damn Addiction,” joined the United States Air Force when he was 18 years old. Justin Holmes served in the Air Force for 14 years as a Security Forces member, mostly as a weapons instructor.
Holmes lived a lot of different places during his time in the service. He went to Cheyenne, Las Vegas, and even spent time in Korea.
Holmes started writing songs while serving in the Air Force. He’d take his guitar to parties and play songs for his friend, and music was a “fun outlet” for him.
Country Rebel connected with Holmes in 2017, and shared a video of him covering Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” The video went viral, and earned millions of views on Facebook.
Then, in 2022, audio of Holmes performing his original song “Damn Addiction” during Country Rebel‘s 2019 “George Jones Sessions” went viral on TikTok. Country Rebel Records signed Holmes as their first artist that year. He’s currently gearing up to release his first studio recordings.
You can listen to Holmes’ debut single “Drink You Down” here.
4. Conway Twitty – United States Army
After he graduated high school, a young man by the name of Harold Jenkins was drafted to serve his country in the United States Army. That young man would one day become a major country music star with a different name…Conway Twitty.
Twitty was stationed in the Far East during his military service, but he never forgot about his childhood passion for music. While stationed overseas, Twitty performed in a music group to entertain his fellow soldiers.
Once Twitty returned home, he adopted his stage name and pursued a music career. As you know, that pursuit was a major success.
3. Kris Kristofferson – United States Army
Kris Kristofferson was born into military life. His father, Lars Henry Kristofferson, was a United States Army Corps officer and later a United States Air Force Major General. As a result, Kristofferson’s parents pushed him to also serve his country, so he did.
Kristofferson joined the Army and served for five years, attaining the rank of captain. He was stationed in Germany for a time before returning to the States, where he taught literature at West Point.
Against his parents’ wishes, Kristofferson left the Army to pursue a career as a songwriter. Although his parents didn’t approve of his new career choice, Kristofferson thrived as a songwriter and country artist.
2. Willie Nelson – United States Air Force
Kristofferson’s fellow Highwayman also served in the military before he became one of country music’s biggest stars. After Nelson left school in 1950, he joined the United States Air Force. He served for eight to nine months before he returned home.
Not much is known about Nelson’s time in the military. But a lot is known about his life after he got back from serving his country. He attended Baylor University from 1954-1956, where he studied agriculture.
But Nelson eventually dropped out of college to chase a career in music, and we all know how that went. He’s now regarded as one of the most influential artists not just in country, but all genres.
1. George Strait – United States Army
The entire reason “The King of Country” got his start in music is because of his time spent in the military. In 1971, Strait enlisted in the United States Army, and was stationed at Scholfield Barracks in Hawaii.
During his time in Hawaii, Strait discovered he had a true passion for music. He started performing with an Army-sponsored country band called Rambling Country, which also played off of the base.
Strait was honorably discharged in 1975, and enrolled in college at Southwest Texas State University, where he continued performing in a local country band. He released his first single, “Unwound,” in 1981, and has since earned 61 number one hits.
Once again, we’d like to thank Strait and all of these talented country artists who served in the military!