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Chely Wright and Mark Wills have never worn the official uniforms of the U.S. military. But they've both found a way to give service to their country Ã¢ÂÂ as goodwill ambassadors.
Mark recently visited military personnel who had been wounded in the Iraq conflict at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He wound up spending some one-on-one time with a noteworthy soldier -- former POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch, whose capture and incredible rescue remains one of the war's most inspiring stories.
Chely also took time to lend support to our troops at Walter Reed, and make goodwill stops at the White House and the Pentagon.
Both stars recall their heartwarming experiences as they did their part to boost American morale.
Mark was caught by surprise when he was taken to meet Private Lynch. "We were performing for the soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital," Mark begins, "and I had no inkling whatsoever that she was there. As we were getting ready to leave, the family asked if we would swing by and visit her."
Turns out Jessica is a huge fan of Mark's music, especially his latest No. 1, "19 Somethin'." Mark spent about 20 minutes with the young soldier and her family, giving a command performance of his big hit.
The moment left Mark awestruck. "You've seen her story on the news so many times, and then you actually get to meet the person. We basically just hung out and talked, and it was really amazing, just a special time. And I'm glad to report Jessica is on her way to recovery."
Around the time Mark met Jessica, reports were circulating that her rescue was staged for the TV cameras. Some media outlets also raised questions about the severity of her injuries. "For them to say that was just bull!" declares Mark. "I could see the injuries she sustained and they were pretty serious. It made me a little mad to hear those stories."
Mark's more than happy, though, to support the troops. "It's the most grateful audience you will ever play for," he says. "Performing for them lets them know there are a lot of people who believe in what they're doing.
"My dad was in the 101st Airborne in Vietnam," he adds, "so I've always had respect for the men and women in the service.
"They believe in the job and they do it!"
Chely would have cheered up the soldiers at Walter Reed with her presence alone, but she gave them a little extra -- an intimate performance featuring just herself and her guitar player.
"The part of the hospital where we were was for the soldiers who had been severely injured," notes Chely. "To see them being so appreciative was really touching, considering all that they have been through. It's one of the most emotional days I have ever had."
The native of Wellsville, Kan., came to Washington to receive a special honor as Kansan of the Year. While in the nation's capital, Chely copped a couple of cool perks: an after-hours, private tour of the White House as well as a trip to the Pentagon.
"I'd never been to either one," she reveals, still awestruck from the experience. "I had played a concert on the White House lawn in July of 2001, but that's as close as I got. After the White House," Chely continues, "I went inside the Pentagon and actually saw the War Room."
Chely's goodwill tours haven't stopped with Washington. She's also pressed on to military bases in Baghdad and South Korea.
"It's my way of saying thanks to the troops," Chely declares. "I was always taught that serving your country is the best thing you can do."