By Kurt Wolff
Country music artists are renowned for their support of members of the U.S. military. And in a CBS television special airing tonight (May 20), that support is expressed through a series of performances that pay tribute to the men and women who work in the various branches of the armed forces.
ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops features performances by such country stars as Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, Florida Georgia Line, Lady Antebellum and The Band Perry.
Hosted by LL COOL J and Chris O’Donnell, the program also includes match-ups between some of the artists, such as a duet between ACM Entertainer of the Year winner George Strait and country legend Merle Haggard on the latter’s classic hit “The Fightin’ Side of Me.”
At the heart of the special, though, is a series of duets between country artists and active members of the military — who, it quickly became clear, put in many hours of practice for this, as they were not shy in the least. They weren’t just there as set decorations, each took the stage like they meant it. Lee Brice, for instance, performed his ACM Song of the Year “I Drive Your Truck” with U.S. Army Sgt. Christiana Ball; Urban paired up with U.S. Navy STG3 Destiny Mills-Coates; and Hunter Hayes sang with U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Katie Spira. See the full list of military performers and their duet partners below.
“I think the fact we get to team up with these men and women is absolutely brilliant,” Hayes said. “Because there are some unbelievably talented people.”
Further highlights from the show include Bryan doing a moving version of his recent No. 1 hit “Drink a Beer,” complete with audience sing-along, and Underwood, dressed in a stunning white gown, performing a brand-new song, “Keep Us Safe.”
Toby Keith had previous performed “Call a Marine” with U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Mike Corrado, but the finale brought him back out to perform “American Soldier.” Then members of the military surprised him by awarding him the Spirit of the USO Award, for all the years he’s put in supporting the troops on USO tours.
“That caught me off guard,” the singer said from the stage (he was visibly surprised when the announcement came). As he described it, though, during his acceptance speech, he simply felt that the troops needed entertainment, so he stepped in. “I saw a need and a void the great Bob Hope left behind, and no one was filling it.” Though, he added, “as hard as Big Dog Daddy tried, I couldn’t bring Marilyn Monroe.”
Keith went on to say that support for the troops isn’t and shouldn’t ever be seen as a political statement. It doesn’t matter which side of the political fence you stand on, it’s simply about supporting your fellow human beings.
ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops airs Tuesday, May 20 at 9pm ET/PT on CBS.
Participants from the U.S. armed forces:
U.S. Marine CorpsCapt. John Ed Auer, Performed on fiddle with Lady Antebellum
Current Position/Duty Station: Silent Drill Platoon Commander, stationed at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Army Sgt. Christiana Ball, Performed on vocals with Lee Brice
Current Position/Duty Station: Drill Sergeant for Initial Entry Military Police Soldiers, stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Harry Bounds, Participated in finale with Toby Keith
Current Position/Duty Station: Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, stationed at Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina
U.S. Navy Lt. Chelsea Brunoehler,Participated in finale with Toby Keith
Current Position/Duty Station: Instructor Pilot at Training Air Wing FIVE in Milton, Florida
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Mike Corrado, Performed on vocals with Toby Keith
Current Position/Duty Station: Executive Officer, Wounded Warrior Regiment, stationed at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia
U.S. Army Spc. Kelly A. Gregg, Performed on vocals with The Band Perry
Current Position/Duty Station: Patient Administration Specialist, stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas
U.S. Navy STG3 Destiny Mills-Coates, Performed on vocals with Keith Urban
Current Position/Duty Station: a Student at the Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center at Naval Base Point Loma, California
U.S. Coast GuardME1 Noah Reinhart, Participated in finale with Toby Keith
Current Position/Duty Station: Maritime Enforcement Specialist, assigned at U.S. Coast Guard Island Alameda in California.
U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Matt Smith, Performed on guitar with Lady Antebellum
Current Position/Duty Station: Assistant Operations Officer, stationed at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Katie Spira, Performed on vocals with Hunter Hayes
Current Position/Duty Station: Executive Officer aboard the Cutter ADAK
U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Brandon Valentine, Performed on vocals with Rascal Flatts
Current Position/Duty Station: Radio Operator, stationed at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twenty-nine Palms, California
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Baily Zimmerman, Performed on vocals with Kellie Pickler
Current Position/Duty Station: Aircrew, Aerospace Medical Craftsman, stationed at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina