Stars for Stripes Wounded Warriors Return
While country artists Craig Morgan and Chris Young and GAC host Nan Kelley went to the Middle East with the hope of bringing a taste of home to those stationed at military bases there, this tour impacted them in unimaginable ways thanks to two special men also making the trip. Sergeant First Class Joseph Bowser (U.S. Army, retired) and Staff Sergeant Scott Lilley (USAF) were seriously injured while serving in Iraq and until recently, had not returned to the Middle East. The two joined Morgan, Young and Kelley for a tour of military bases and hospitals in Iraq and Germany - including the ones where they received their care - and that very special trip is documented in Stars for Stripes: Wounded Warriors Return on Great American Country.
This Stars for Stripes tour - co-sponsored by Armed Forces Entertainment - included stops at COP Meade, Camp Striker and Balad Airbase as well as a visit to Ramstein Airbase in Germany. In addition to acoustic performances at each base, Morgan's and Young's concert at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was the first time private citizens of Iraq were able to experience a concert by American artists. Due to bad weather, the entourage was unable to travel to the embassy by Blackhawk helicopter and for the first time in many years, was taken by ground transportation outside of the international zone.
"It was just one of the most amazing and humbling things I have ever had the opportunity to do," Chris Young says of his first military tour. "I'm 24 years old and there are a lot of people my age who are just coming over here for the first time and in a much different capacity."
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Joe Bowser lost his leg from injuries he sustained and Scott Lilley suffered a serious brain injury while serving. "I wanted to come back and walk out this time on both feet," Bowser emotionally tells a group of doctors and medics in the facility where he received treatment. "We all cried," Nan Kelley remembers. "Joe and Scott were given the hero's welcome that all of our troops deserve." Lilley and his father both sought closure as they were accompanied by a ground convoy and drove over the exact spot on an Iraqi road where Lilley was hit. They also visited Fisher House, the Lilley's home away from home, and a place for soldiers' families to stay while their loved ones recuperate.
There are constant reminders that a war is still in progress: the entourage traveled in body armor, were accompanied by gunners on helicopter flights and sat through a training film on what to do if attacked.
This was the sixth visit to the Middle East for Morgan, an Army vet. "The thing I'll take away is sharing Joe's personal experience with him. I'm taking away friendships that otherwise I wouldn't have."