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John Michael Montgomery's moving "Letters from Home" video salutes the people who helped make it -- American soldiers.

When John Michael Montgomery was helping plan the video concept for his touching smash hit "Letters From Home," he did something very un-star-like.

John Michael said he wanted to be seen in the video as little as possible.

"This didn't need to be a video about John Michael Montgomery," he explains. "I told the director, 'We're gonna let this story flow. I want this thing to be moving, and my face flashing in 20 or 30 times is just gonna be too much. They don't need to see me much.' "

But the people who were seen are all stars in John Michael's eyes. "All the guys in the video, except four actors, were real soldiers, and you can tell in the video that they look real. All the soldiers gettin' letters and 90 percent of the people in that video are reservists that just got back from Iraq. It was cool to be a part of all of that."

Knowing what they'd just been through made it easy for John Michael to put a lot of things in perspective, and he's quick to admit it.

"I was sittin' by a pile of letters in a tent," he recalls of the shoot at a Nashville-area National Guard base, "and I had all these real military people walkin' around me. And you just sit there and go, 'Here I am, the country music star cuttin' a video, and they just got back from Iraq gettin' their butts shot at. I'm in a tent with a bunch of letters, and it's all made up.' It does put a lot of things in perspective.

"They're walkin' around, in a good mood, laughin', just glad to be home. And they're probably gonna go back out again, but they were just enjoying the moment. They were so happy to be in the video. And I'm sittin' there thinking, 'They don't know how glad I am that they're bein' a part of it.' "

Some of the comments from the soldiers also let John Michael know that the song was right on target with its message about how much a letter can mean to a person - especially soldiers far away from home.

"A lot of 'em hadn't heard the song, but they said, 'Man, I don't listen to country music that much, but I like this song. It's so true.'

"That's why I just wanted the video to show them, not me. I wanted them to be the stars of this video. I didn't want to mess it up by bein' in there all the time. It was pretty much their story, I was just narrating and stayed out of it as much as possible."

Although it's not been a conscious decision on his part, until "Letters," John Michael has stayed out of videos altogether for quite some time. But in his red-hot early days of hits with "Life's a Dance," "Be My Baby Tonight, " "I Swear," "I Love the Way You Love Me" and "Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)," videos were a very frequent occurrence in his life.

"This is my first video in about six years," he declares. "Back in the early '90s, when I was putting out three songs a year and a song only lasted 13 weeks on the charts, seems like every time I turned around I was cutting a video. And it was hard, not so much the process of cutting the video, but I was bustin' my butt out on the road. So I was just squeezing it in.

"I would fly in and do the video and I'd leave and go do something else, and I couldn't really partake in it as much as I wanted to. I was just up there singing, and a lot of times I was wore out.

"I haven't had a super-hot record since 'The Little Girl' in 2000, and we cut that video and didn't put it out. The last video I had out was 'Home to You.' But I enjoy doing 'em and I feel like they're an extremely

important part of my career."

And how does he feel about this one? "I think the video turned out really well," he admits with a smile.

"I'm very proud of it."

-- David Scarlett