When singer Kellie Pickler performs for an audience of U.S. soldiers, she becomes the superfan, gazing out on a crowd of brave men and women.
The American Idol alum and star of the new reality show, I Love Kellie Pickler (premiering Thursday, Nov. 5 on CMT), has entertained nearly 38,000 troops since partnering in 2007 with the USO (United Service Organizations), a nonprofit military support organization. “Because of these experiences, I will never be the same,” says Pickler, 29, an Albemarle N.C., native. “Without a doubt, it has been the biggest honor of my life.”
Ceremonies and parades honoring U.S. troops will be widespread this Veterans Day (Nov. 11), a time for Americans to consider ways to express their gratitude year-round—for those who have served, those who are still serving and those soldiers rejoining the civilian world after years of service. For her part, Pickler is committed to showing her appreciation whenever she can.
Her initial involvement was inspired after reading about fellow country music artist Toby Keith’s frequent USO tours. Pickler has since been on nine overseas tours to 12 countries, including one tour with husband, songwriter Kyle Jacobs, while on their 2011 honeymoon.
“Kellie has been a great friend and supporter of the military for a long time,” says Rachel Tischler, vice president of USO entertainment. “Musicians like Kellie, movie stars, professional athletes—they all give so much of themselves to help lift the spirits of the troops and their families on behalf of all Americans.”
But Pickler waves off the fuss.
“Even though I look forward to the shows and performing, what I really enjoy is having a meal with [the troops] and hearing their stories about where they come from and their loved ones back home,” says Pickler. “We have no idea what these soldiers see and go through every day for our freedom. Nothing I do could ever really be enough to say thank you.”
Earlier this year, her efforts were recognized with the first-ever Operation Troop Aid Chris Kyle Patriot Award, named for the famed Navy SEAL who died in 2013, inspiring the 2014 film, American Sniper. Kyle’s parents, Wayne and Deby Kyle, presented her with the award at a ceremony at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Tenn., in June.
“I was so honored to be in their presence and just thank them,” she says of the Kyle family. “So often, we’re good about giving credit to soldiers and veterans for their service, but we also need to recognize their families and loved ones, too. They also give up so much, and it’s important for them to know that we are grateful.”
“What Can I Do?”
Kellie says fans often ask her what they can do to show their gratitude to U.S. service members. Here are her ideas:
When you see someone in uniform, look them in the eye and thank them for their service.
When you’re buying a coffee, order another one for the soldier in line behind you.
Ask a veteran to tell you his story, and let him know you’re grateful for his sacrifice.
Want to see more from Kellie? Tune in and hang out at home with Kellie and her husband Kyle on their reality show, I Love Kellie Pickler, which premiered Thursday, Nov. 5 on CMT. Check local listings for times.