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Touch of Home

Craig Morgan, Chris Young and GAC’s Nan Kelley spend a week with the troops during GAC’s Stars for Stripes: Wounded Warriors Return.

CORRECTION: The caption of the hospital photo featuring Craig Morgan and a wounded soldier on page 28 of our Dec. 14 issue (“Touch of Home”) incorrectly identifies the location as Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The correct location is Landstuhl Regional Medical Center as displayed in our online caption below. CW regrets the error.

Back before Thanksgiving, Craig Morgan, Chris Young and GAC’s Nan Kelly took a trip they won’t soon forget. For seven days in Iraq and Germany, they performed, visited hospitals and thanked our servicemen and women for the tremendous sacrifices they’re all making for us. With them on the trip were wounded warriors SFC Joe Bowser (U.S. Army Retired) and SSGT Scott Lilley (USAF), who both returned to Iraq after recovering from very serious injuries suffered there. Joe is an amputee who was wounded in Iraq in 2004, while Scott sustained a traumatic brain injury in Baghdad in 2007. Their return to Iraq as part of the Stars for Stripes tour was documented by GAC—along with performances and hospital visits by Craig, Chris and Nan—for a TV special called Stars for Stripes: Wounded Warriors Return. The show premieres Dec. 10 at 9:30 p.m. ET.

After their return, Craig, Chris and Nan took time to talk with CW about their emotionally powerful trip. Because of space limitations we were unable to include in the magazine some truly wonderful stories from those interviews. But here’s some of what Nan had to say about aspects of the trip that she’ll never forget. A word of advice—get a tissue ready. And remember this the next time you’re trying to decide whether or not to go to a Veteran’s Day parade. For more on this great story, check out the Dec. 14 issue of Country Weekly.

CW: What are some of the true highlights of the trip for you?

Nan: Going to Iraq and being able to thank our troops and to shake their hands personally and tell them we appreciate them, we care about them, was a thrill of a lifetime. It’s something I always try to do when I have the opportunity. But the most moving and inspirational part of the trip for me was being with these two wounded heroes that traveled with us on Stars for Stripes, Joe Bowser and Staff Sergeant Scott Lilley. Joe is retired from the Army and Scott serves in the Air Force to this day. We traveled with these two wounded heroes who wanted to return to the country that almost took their lives. They wanted closure, they wanted to feel like they completed their mission, and they wanted to walk out on their own accord this time, instead of being carried out.

Joe Bowser lost his leg in Balad and Scott Lilley suffered a traumatic brain injury in Baghdad, from shrapnel. Being with those two heroes and watching their bravery to go back into Iraq, and witnessing their hero’s welcome and the reception [from the staff] of the hospital in Balad that cared for them both . . . the moment that those two heroes walked in, the emergency room there was full of medics and nurses and surgeons and doctors and officers. And the hero’s welcome they got . . . that is the highlight of my trip. I’m a very emotional person and I knew that I would be moved . . . I have a very soft spot in my heart for our servicemen and women, and always have. But I cried more . . . I didn’t expect to be so completely moved and so completely inspired by these two soldiers’ bravery, and by the hero’s reception that they got.

Of course, Craig and Chris’ performances were a great part of our show. And the troops were so ready to have some great country music over there. And they loved it. They loved Chris and Craig and sang along. But they welcomed Scott and Joe . . . their stories were part of our show. We had video pieces of their story that we played at every stop on screens onstage. It told their story, and then I introduced them. And the standing ovations, time after time, and the tears people shed watching them . . .

Craig chats with a wounded warrior during a hospital tour at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Scott Lilley’s father, Frank Lilley, a civilian, accompanied us as well. And to see a father address the troops with tears in his eyes and his voice just full of emotion—all branches of the service—for caring for his son. He almost died. They were giving Scott the purple heart in Germany at Landstuhl Medical Center, because they did not think he would make it. They wanted to administer that honor while he was still alive. But one of the nurses called Scott’s mom and dad, Frank and Jolene Lilley, to give them news of their son. And she said, “You need to get on a plane and get here as quickly as you can,” knowing full well that he probably wasn’t going to live.

Scott Lilley’s mom said, “Put him on the phone.” Of course, he was not coherent. He was in a coma. Nothing was reviving him. And she said, “Put him on the phone, just hold the phone up to his ear.” And she said, “Scott, Mom and Dad are coming. We are on our way. You are going to be just fine.” And he reached for the phone. His mom’s voice pulled him out of the coma. And Frank and Jolene went there, they never left his side. They went to Germany, accompanied him back to the states to Walter Reed and never left his side for four or five months through his recuperation. And he is fully recovered.

And so Frank Lilley got to go back with his son and see this and be a part of this closure and this hero’s welcome. Scott turned over the stage to his dad for most of his time during the show. And it brought tears to everybody’s eyes every night. That is a father with his son, thanking the people for taking care of him and praising our troops and saying “we believe in you, we don’t forget you and we are here to say thank you.”

That’s the highlight. That’s it. I have never been more inspired.

Joe Bowser, who is retired and works for the Secretary of the Army at the Pentagon now, is an amputee from the knee down. He would get onstage and say to the troops, “You all wear the American flag on your sleeve on your uniform. Let me show you where I wear mine now.” And he pulls up his pants leg and shows his prosthetic leg that has this big American flag. And it stops the crowd . . . or they jump up on their feet.

Like I said, I’ve never been more inspired. That’s what it’s all about.