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Troop Tribute Spotlights National Guardsman

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 9, 2005 – Country music fans phoned WMZQ radio throughout the day Oct. 8 asking one question: would the heavy rains stop the Tribute to the Troops?

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Luke Stricklin (left), an Arkansas National Guardsman and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, and members of his band perform Oct. 8 at the Tribute to the Troops at Nissan Pavilion in Manassas, Va. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn

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Not to worry, the disc jockeys said. The show would go on. People with tickets for lawn seats at the Nissan Pavilion in Manassas, Va., could now sit inside the open-air concert arena.

One caller vowed the sporadic downpours wouldn't keep her away. "I'll be there," she said. "The troops don't stop fighting just because it rains."

Thousands of other country-music-loving troop supporters showed the same determination. They coped with the wet weather and dodged local flooding to attend the concert starring country music stars Montgomery Gentry, with special guests Chely Wright and Keith Anderson.

Information Manufacturing Corp. and the United Service Organizations were among the show's sponsors. Proceeds would benefit Paralyzed Veterans of America.

As people filled their seats, a public service video aired on the pavilion's big screens telling fans they could send a message of support to the troops by logging onto www.AmericaSupportsYou.mil, a Defense Department Web site that highlights troop support events across America.

A newcomer on the country music scene, Luke Stricklin, an Arkansas National Guard specialist and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, opened the show. After singing songs off his debut album, Stricklin sang his hit single "American, by God's Amazing Grace."

The song explains how servicemembers in Iraq come to realize how much they appreciate being born in America. The song's chorus says: "Well when you've seen what I've seen things don't seem so bad. Quit worrying 'bout what you ain't got, thank God for what you have. 'Cause I could be raising my family in this place, but I was born an American -- by God's amazing grace."

Stricklin, originally of Arkadelphia, Ark., now lives near Van Buren, Ark. He joined the Guard when he was 17. The singer songwriter explains on his Web site www.lukestricklin.com how the hit song came into being.

"During my 12 months in Baghdad, Iraq, I bought a guitar off the streets of Baghdad," he said. "It was no Martin, but ... it was playable. JR Shultz the (co-writer), Nick Brown and I spent as much time as we could together drinking coffee and playing music. Then we would head out on patrol and come back and do it all over again. It wasn't very often that we got that much time off, but when we did we made good use of it.

"Everyone at home always asked what it was like over there," Stricklin said. "And I would tell them it was hot and change the subject. Mom always said I wasn't telling her the truth, which I wasn't. I would tell her everything was just fine. Ashley, my wife, couldn't hear me talk about it, we just talked about anything else.

"So I thought about writing a song that could answer their questions," he said. "I looked at the bottom of my boots one day and it all began. They were worn out - I wore the same pair of boots every day for at least 12 hours for about 14 months, so they were worn. JR put in his thoughts and we had a song. We recorded it on JR's laptop with a sound recording program using a $10 mike I bought at Best Buy before I left home."

Stricklin e-mailed the song back home, and the rest, as they say, is history. Phone calls and e-mails poured in as one radio station after another played the song.

"When I returned stateside in March of 2005, the phone calls and e-mails were coming in from TV and radio stations all over the country," Stricklin said. "Steady requests for TV and radio interviews. In April I was given the opportunity to go to the recording studio for the first time in my life. 'American by God's Amazing Grace' was my first recording."

Stricklin's song got a standing ovation from the crowd at the Tribute to the Troops.

"I haven't been over there, so I don't know exactly for sure, but it kind of hit home with me," Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin O'Grady said. The information manager and personal security specialist with the Office of the Secretary of Defense proudly noted that the day marked his 13th anniversary in the Air Force.

O'Grady said he welcomed the public's show of support for the troops. "There's a lot of support for us," he said. There's some negative, but of the positive support we receive really outweighs anything else."

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Related Sites:
America Supports You

Click photo for screen-resolution imageFans stand to cheer Luke Stricklin, an Iraqi Freedom veteran, after he performed his hit single "American, by God's Amazing Grace" Oct. 8 at the Tribute to the Troops at the Nissan Pavilion in Manassas, Va. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn  
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