By: Capt. Michael Greenberger, Multi-National Force-Iraq
Photos By: Capt. Michael Greenberger, Multi-National Force-Iraq


BAGHDAD, Iraq - On a breezy Wednesday night, various members of Coalition Forces gathered to the out-door stage outside Camp Victory's largest dining facility to await the arrival of Country music sensation Chely Wright.

Chely and company come to Baghdad in their latest over-seas tour, sponsored by Stars for Stripes, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing entertainment to U.S. service members in remote locations world-wide since 2003.  Stars for Stripes President and CEO Judy Seale was also in attendance to thank the troops for doing what they do.  Fort Hood's III Corps, 3rd Signal Brigade, 89th Military Police Brigade, 504th Military Intelligence Brigade and 1st Cavalry Division were among the various patches on shoulders across the crowd. 

As she took the stage she introduced herself to the crowd and commented that many of the folks there may not know her.  After the performance she gave, she may never be forgotten. 

Throughout the course of the evening, Chely took many opportunities to interact with the gathered mass of individuals.  On one occasion, she called a young Soldier out of the crowd to come on stage for a photo-op.  Halfway through her show, she revealed to the audience that she had some guitars to give away, courtesy of Morale, Welfare and Recreation.  The dilemma was how to decide who gets the guitars.  She asked who had been to Iraq before - or the longest, which determined one lucky recipient.  Another guitar landed in the hands of someone who answered correctly the name of a song from her first album.

Another highlight of the show came when she invited one of the on-lookers to the stage to sing.  Spc. Travis Bishop of the 3rd Sig. Bde. enthusiastically jumped on stage and grabbed a microphone as Chely's band launched into Garth Brooks', "Friend's In Low Places".  The crowd was stunned and delighted when Bishop's voice boomed from the speakers better than perhaps Garth Brooks himself.  After the roaring crowd finished their applause for Bishop's performance, they launched into laughter as he pulled a demo CD from his pocket and gave it to Chely.  She was elated that he'd done so well and after the show backstage, encouraged Bishop in his dream of being a country singer, offering a few tips in how to get started in Nashville.  Bishop said that, "Chely's voice is perfect.  She doesn't need any synthesizers or technical help like some other performers.  Her style of just sitting down with us and playing - it was so laid back.  It was great." 

The band was happy to be there too.  Bass player Clay Krasner, who has been playing with Chely for five years, joked that playing to this type of crowd was great because they are a captive audience - before saying that, "They enjoy playing these tours to thank [the troops] for doing what they do - to enable the band to be free to do what they do."  Chely connected with the crowd in such a way that it was nearly palpable in the air.  One of her songs, "The Bumper of My S.U.V.", was written after an irate woman pointed to Chely's Marine Corps bumper sticker and shouted, "Your war is wrong" at a stop light.  The bumper sticker was sent to her by her brother who has been a Marine for 17 years.  After revealing the background behind the song's creation to the audience, nearly everyone stood silently, eyes fixed on her as she sang.  Towards the end of the song, Chely became visibly emotional and nearly broke into tears and paused.  After a moment, the crowd began to cheer and encourage her to continue.  One fan said, "You could just tell that these people had accepted her not just into their camp, but into their hearts."

Chely demonstrated her dedication to the troops by staying until nearly midnight taking hundreds of photos and signing autographs.  The most popular question in the autograph tent was, "When is your new CD coming out?"

Chely, a Kansas native, has been playing music since the age of 11, and is perhaps best known for hit songs such as "Single White Female" and "Shut Up and Drive".  Chely was recognized in 2002 as "Kansan of the year" for her charity work and support of the U.S. military.  Chely's family tree has deep roots in the military.  In addition to her brother's service as a Marine, Chely's father served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam and her Grandfather stormed the beaches at Normandy with the "Big Red One".  With a family like that, it is no surprise that she has performed for troops and veterans all over the world from the U.S. to Japan and Korea.  From Germany to the Middle East - Chely Wright loves and supports the troops.

 Chely's charity is not limited to the military.  In 1999 Chely started a non-profit charity, The Reading, Writing, and Rhythm Foundation, which is dedicated to improving music education in public schools across America by raising awareness about the importance of music education to the youth of America.

Chely and crew will visit several more locations in Iraq before finishing her tour in Germany and then back home to record a new album.



©2004 Stars For Stripes All rights reserved.