Chely Wright brings little piece of country to South Korean GIs
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Country singer Chely Wright has been “deployed” as much as any soldier in the past 12 months. She’s entertained troops in Iraq and Japan and, on Saturday night at Yongsan Garrison, wrapped up her second trip to South Korea in a year.
And all this came during what she calls a year off to write songs.
“South Korea really is kind of forgotten in the States,” Wright said just before performing at a packed Collier Field House.
“Most people don’t realize how many troops we have over here. And I really enjoy the East. Inevitably, we’ll have a new band member and we want to give them the opportunity to bring entertainment to the troops, so we love coming back.”
Wright has gone on tour for the troops in South Korea at least five times, with the last visit being a Fourth of July show at Osan Air Base. That came just weeks after she took part in the first entertainment event for troops in Iraq, as part of a tour with Kid Rock and other celebrities.
“It really hit home in Iraq, when people just kept coming up and saying, ‘God, I feel like I’m at home for just a little while.’ That was so gratifying,” said Wright, who was named the American Legion’s 2003 Woman of the Year for her work with the troops.
There’s also a more personal reason Wright plays so often for the troops. Her grandfather served in the Army, her father was in the Navy and her brother is a 14-year veteran of the Marine Corps. In fact, her brother just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq as a crew chief for a CH-53 helicopter.
For Chely Wright, the trip to Iraq gave her a small glimpse of what her brother experienced.
“It was scary and hot and sobering,” Wright said. “I’ll never forget that when we first got there, to an air base called Tallil, you couldn’t tell if the soldiers were black or white or what because everyone was just covered in this dust. It was so barren.”
Saturday’s Yongsan show was her last on this trip to South Korea. When she gets back to the United States, it’s right back to work. She’ll take part in a Veterans Day concert to benefit Stars for Stripes, an organization she helped found that aims to bring more high-profile entertainers to troops overseas.
And she’s heading back to the studio. The first single from her new album is set for release in February, she said.
For those in Saturday’s crowd, none of that really mattered after Wright kicked off the show with “Shut Up and Drive.”
“I think it’s incredible that she’s done as much as she has and done as many tours for troops overseas as she has,” said Spc. Carla Tucker of the 18th Medical Command.
“There are a lot of artists who recorded songs after 9/11 and the war in Iraq, saying, ‘Don’t mess with the U.S.’ and stuff. But how many of them do you see out here in a gym in Korea doing a free show?”