10 Country Singers Who Also Served in the Military

History dictates country music is built on a few core tenets, including God, family, and American pride. Some of country music’s most-known icons and biggest contemporary star put their pride to the test and signed up for the United States armed forces to help defend the land and lifestyle they so ardently sing about.

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Former Navy man Zach Bryan headlined Nashville’s Nissan Stadium the weekend before Independence Day. Craig Morgan, who recently reenlisted in the Army Reserves, stopped in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, to visit Last Stop Brew Vault, which is owned by a fellow veteran. Former Marine Jamey Johnson spent Saturday playing Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, and doctors finally gave 1950s Air Force cadet Willie Nelson the green light to go back on stage.

These are just four of many country singers who served in the U.S. military. Here are 10 country stars who first signed a contract with the U.S. military before they signed the contract with their record label.

Austin Snell

Austin Snell is a Georgia-born Air Force veteran who grew up listening to Nickelback and Alan Jackson. But it was Ed Sheeran who inspired him to buy a guitar. Two years and more than 235 million streams later, Snell just released his 13-song debut album, Still Bleeding, as a joint venture between River House and Warner Music Nashville. He’s also preparing to hit the road with fellow Georgia boy Jason Aldean for Aldean’s Highway Desperado Tour this year.

He exited the Air Force in 2020 and moved to Nashville in 2022.

“Things could definitely be going worse,” he said. “We’re doing great. I’m super blessed.”

Sturgill Simpson

Like Zach Bryan, Sturgill Simpson is also a Navy man. The Kentucky native joined the Navy after he graduated high school and spent three years working in the combat information center of a frigate warship. He also served in Japan before he moved back to Kentucky to attempt to launch his music career. Simpson’s time in the military seems to have influenced his musical direction. His third album, A Sailors Guide to Earth, was named Best Country Album at the Grammy Awards.

Willie Nelson

The red-headed stranger might not be a stranger to the armed forces, but he didn’t get highly acquainted with the Air Force. Nelson joined right after high school in the 1950s during the Korean War.  He first wanted to be a pilot and then worked as a medic before he went for more training, and the military soon discharged him for a bad back.

George Strait

Write this down: George Strait served in the U.S. Army from 1971-75. He was stationed in Hawaii and was a Corporal when he left service. Strait signed his record deal with MCA Records six years later.

Kris Kristofferson

Kris Kristofferson’s dad was in the military, so the Golden Gloves boxer and Rhodes scholar followed in his footsteps when he signed up for the U.S. Army. Kristofferson became a captain and a helicopter pilot. West Point had also accepted him as a teacher when he resigned from the Army to chase a career in the music business. He came to Nashville, where he swept floors in a recording studio and eventually met Johnny Cash. Cash took some of Kristofferson’s songs but did nothing with him. Later, Kristofferson landed a helicopter in Cash’s yard to deliver more music.

Cash recorded Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” which won Song of the Year by the Country Music Association in 1970.

Jamey Johnson

Jamey Johnson always knew he wanted to be a Marine. Born in 1975 in Enterprise, Alabama, Johnson attended Jacksonville State University before joining the U.S. Marine Corps in 1994.

“Since I was a young child, I always knew I was going to be a Marine,” Johnson said. “I knew when it was time to leave college and do my time in the Marine Corps. I signed up with a recruiter and went to Parris Island.”

Craig Morgan

It’s been almost one year since Craig Morgan reenlisted in the Army Reserves on stage at the Grand Ole Opry. Morgan spent nearly two decades in the military in total, and he turned reenlisting into a collaborative music idea.   

About three months after Morgan signed his name, Enlisted featured Morgan dueting with some of country music’s biggest names, including Trace Adkins, Luke Combs, Gary LeVox, Jelly Roll, Blake Shelton, and Lainey Wilson.

The six-song project boasts new versions of Morgan’s most recognizable hits and two new songs.
Combs joins Morgan on one of the album’s two new songs, “Raise The Bar.” “That Ain’t Gonna Be Me,” the second new song that features Trace Adkins, closes the project.

The song explains Morgan’s dedication to his convictions.

 “For me, it’s about God and family and country,” he said. “I am so blessed, and I recognize the blessings of the freedoms we celebrate in this nation.”

Johnny Cash

Before Johnny Cash changed the face and trajectory of country music, he was a Morse Code Intercept Operator. The Arkansas native served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War as part of the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile Security Service in Germany. Cash lived there for four years – and it was where he wrote “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Conway Twitty

If not for the U.S. military, Conway Twitty – born Harold Lloyd Jenkins – might have been a Major League Baseball player instead of a country singer. After Jenkins graduated from high school, the Philadelphia Phillies offered him a contract. But he was drafted before he had a shot at MLB success.

The military sent Jenkins to Japan, where he formed a band with other soldiers. They called themselves the Fuji Mountain Boys but changed their name to the Cimarrons. Two years after Jenkins joined the Army, he left the service, changed his name to Conway Twitty and tried his hand at country music.

Zach Bryan

Zach Bryan shares his Navy career in his own words via Instagram: I joined the Navy as a 17 year old kid. 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.

I ran with some big dogs, saw a few fights, out drank the best of them, but more importantly, got to serve along side some of the best men and women I was ever blessed enough to meet.
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.

Thank you guys and I’ll see you on tour.

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