20 Country Artists Who Served In The Military

(Left) Fair Use / Wikimedia Commons / (Center) Zach Bryan / Instagram / (Right) Justin Holmes Music / Facebook

Here Are 20 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. As just a few examples…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 about showing support for our troops, these men, among others, served in the military themselves.

20. Roger Miller – United States Army

Roger Miller is one country artist who served in the military, the Army to be exact
Paul Natkin / Contributor / Getty Images

Roger Miller ran away from home as a teenager and started chasing his musical dreams. The biography on his official website details how he was desperate to start writing songs. So 17-year-old Miller stole a guitar in Texas and took it to Oklahoma.

Miller’s guilt got to him, and he turned himself in the next day. The police made him an offer…he could go to jail, or he could join the Army. Miller chose the Army.

The future country singer served in Korea. He used to joke, “My education was Korea, Clash of ’52.

Later, Miller was assigned to the Special Services and was stationed at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia. While there, he joined the Circle A Wranglers band and started playing the fiddle.

Miller went to Nashville to visit Chet Atkins upon his discharge from the Army, and the rest is history.

19. Jerry Reed – United States Army

Country singer Jerry Reed served in the United States Army
GAB Archive / Contributor / Getty Images

“East Bound and Down” singer Jerry Reed became a country singer-songwriter before enlisting in the military. He released his debut single, “If the Good Lord’s Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise,” in 1955.

Reed experienced great success in the years that followed. In 1959, he appeared on the Bubbling Under the Top 100 chart with his song “Soldier’s Joy.”

The singer went on to become a soldier himself. He enlisted in the United States Army and served for two years before he left and moved to Nashville in 1961.

While Reed was in the Army, Brenda Lee covered a song he wrote titled “That’s All You Got to Do.” Her recording was popular, which kept Reed in the spotlight as a songwriter while he was in the service.

Once in Nashville, Reed picked up where he left off and established himself as a legendary singer, songwriter, guitarist, and actor.

18. Sturgill Simpson – United States Navy

Grammy winner Sturgill Simpson enlisted in the United States Navy during his senior year of high school. He served for three years in the Combat Information Center of a frigate.

Simpson moved around a lot after he left the Navy, and had a series of jobs, all while chasing his musical dreams. He released his debut album, High Top Mountain, in 2013.

Four years later, Simpson won the Best Country Album Grammy Award for his third album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.

During an interview with Uproxx in 2020, Simpson shared he was working on a movie script based on his experiences in the Navy.

17. James Otto – United States Navy

James Otto was born on the Fort Lewis Army Base near Tacoma, Washington in 1973. He went on to pursue his own military career, opting to join the United States Navy after graduating from high school.

Otto served in the Navy for two years. He moved to Nashville in 1998 and released his debut single in 2002. Two years later, his song “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” became his first #1 hit.

16. Marty Robbins – United States Navy

“El Paso” singer Marty Robbins left home at age 17 to enlist in the United States Navy. He served as an LCT coxswain during World War II and was stationed in the Solomon Islands.

Robbins found a fun way to pass the time while in the service. He taught himself to play guitar and started writing songs.

A young Robbins was discharged from the Navy in 1947. He started playing music at local venues in his home state of Arizona.

He eventually hosted his own radio program and television show in Phoenix. Robbins met Little Jimmy Dickens through the TV show, and Dickens helped him secure a record deal.

Robbins’ singing career took off from there. He released over 500 songs before he died in 1982, including hits such as “El Paso,” “A White Sport Coat,” and “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife.”

15. John Prine – United States Army

Future country music legend John Prine left his Illinois hometown after being drafted into the United States Army. He worked as an Army mechanic in West Germany during the Vietnam War era.

Prine already knew how to play guitar by then. He asked his dad to ship his guitar to Germany. After the guitar arrived, Prine spent many evenings playing and singing his favorite songs.

Once Prine left the Army, he returned home and started pursuing a career in music. His self-titled debut album was released in 1971. He enjoyed a lengthy and acclaimed career and earned multiple Grammy Awards.

14. Earl Thomas Conley – United States Army

Earl Thomas Conley is a country star who served in the military
Paul Natkin / Contributor / Getty Images

Young Earl Thomas Conley was offered a scholarship to art school. But he turned it down and chose to enlist in the Army instead.

Conley joined a Christian music trio while serving in the Army. It soon became clear that he had a natural talent for singing. That’s when Conley realized that a music career could be a viable option for him. He also started songwriting during that time.

Conley found himself being influenced by the country greats of the era. His music, therefore, became more country in style.

A 20-something Conley was honorably discharged from the Army in 1968. From there, he started pursuing a career in country music.

Conley’s debut single was released three years later. But his greatest success came in the 1980s when he earned numerous #1 hits such as “I Can’t Win for Losin’ You,” “Honor Bound,” and “Angel in Disguise.”

13. Johnny Paycheck – United States Navy

Country singer Johnny Paycheck served in the military
Johnny Paycheck / Facebook

Country “outlaw” Johnny Paycheck started singing in local talent contests near his hometown of Greenfield, Ohio when he was only nine years old. He was singing professionally by the time he was 15.

But Paycheck put singing on hold for a bit and joined the United States Navy in the 1950s.

As the biography on his official website details, Paycheck “was court-martialed in 1956 for hitting a superior officer and served two years in a military prison.”

Upon his release, Paycheck “roamed around” until he ended up settling in Nashville. From there, he went on to record many hit country songs, including “She’s All I Got,” “Mr. Lovemaker,” and of course, “Take This Job and Shove It.”

12. Gene Autry – United States Army

Country Artists Who Served In The Military - Gene Autry
Gene Autry’s Official Website (GeneAutry.com)

“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

Country Artists Who Served In The Military - George Jones
The George Jones Museum

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

Zach Bryan is one country artist who previously served in the military
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“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 an 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.

Bryan added:

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 17 years.

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

Country Artists Who Served In The Military - Justin Holmes
Justin Holmes Music / Facebook

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 in many different places during his time in the service. He went to Cheyenne, and Las Vegas, and 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.

Holmes has released two singles with Country Rebel Records, “Drink You Down,” and the 90s country-inspired “Heartbreak Honky Tonk.”

4. Conway Twitty – United States Army

After he graduated high school, a young man named 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 disagreed with 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 returned from serving his country. He attended Baylor University from 1954 to 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!