By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2006 – Telling the nation’s servicemembers to “Shut Up and Drive” is just one more way country music star Chely Wright is letting them know just how much she cares.
Wright recently filmed a public service announcement in Ramstein, Germany, which included her song “Shut Up and Drive.”
The song urges people to avoid things that distract them while driving. “It’s about don’t be drinking a soda (obviously don’t be drinking a beer) don’t be trying to change a CD and not paying attention (or) talking on a cell phone,” Wright said.
Wright was in Europe performing for servicemembers with a Stars for Stripes tour. Stars for Stripes is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing entertainment to deployed servicemembers. The organization also is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program highlighting ways Americans and the corporate sector support the nation’s servicemembers.
She said she never realized simple distractions caused so many car wrecks. “So many people have accidents when they’re trying to change a CD or talk on the (cell) phone,” she said. “It’s staggering.”
Wright admitted that she’s bad about talking on the phone and getting distracted while she’s driving, but said that what she learned while filming the public service announcement has stuck with her.
The other thing that’s stuck with her from her latest European tour is her visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, in Landstuhl, Germany.
Wright has been to field hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan and has made many trips to visit injured servicemembers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. She also played for injured servicemembers at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., during a recent visit there.
Landstuhl was a totally different experience, though, she said.
“It’s emotionally a much different hospital visit because these guys are one day into their injury (rather) than three weeks into losing a limb or having a burn all over their body,” she said. “(I’m) still blown away by the level of courage and bravery and tenacity, really.
“If I lost a limb, I think if you talked to me a day after I lost it, I would be so angry and so afraid to go back into a situation that may have caused (the loss),” she said.
What she heard from the servicemembers she visited, however, is that they wish the doctors could fix them and get them back to their buddies. “I’m continually amazed at their courage,” Wright said.
That amazement, along with strong family ties to the military, including a brother who’s a Marine gunnery sergeant, makes supporting the troops a top priority for Wright, she said.
Her grandfather, a World War II soldier, encouraged Wright to play at a veterans hospital near her hometown of Kansas City, Mo., one Wednesday a month. Her dedication to supporting the nation’s servicemembers hasn’t wavered. “It feels like the right thing to do for me,” Wright said, “and I do enjoy it.”
Sometimes she’ll find herself talking with someone she’s met three or four times before on different continents, she said.
“We get to hang out, and (they) show me the same picture in their wallet of their wife and kids, and then I get back to the states and have him show up at a show with that wife and those kids,” she said. “I don’t know that everyone gets the opportunity in their lifetime to have some neat “warm-fuzzy’ moments like that, so I take them when I can get them.”
So far this year, the singer has had lots of opportunities for warm fuzzies. She’s performed for troops more than a dozen times and won’t turn down a chance to perform for them again if she can work it into her schedule.
“I’m committed. The band’s committed,” she said. “I think the (United Service Organizations) and Stars For Stripes know that when they need somebody, they can call on me and if I can make it work with my schedule and travel, I’ll do it.”
USO, also an America Supports You member, has provided morale, welfare and recreation-type services to servicemembers and their families since 1941.