Usually musicians collaborate with other artists in similar fields. Over the past couple years I’ve found myself immersed in something unexpected — a deeply moving collaboration inspired by service members of the U.S. military. In 2008 I was at the military hospital in Germany where U.S. service members wounded in war are treated, and I was surprised by the common ground we shared, civilian and servicemen. Conversations there led me to get in touch with the Texas National Guard back in Austin, where I wanted to find a way to work with soldiers through songwriting.
As soon as I heard about the Angel Flight missions — the flights that pilots volunteer to fly to return the bodies of soldiers who die overseas in combat — I knew the song was in there. I mulled the idea for a couple months, and then I wrote the song with Radney Foster one night after dinner at his house in Nashville. We both knew it was special when we wrote it, but we had no idea what a powerful effect it would have.
“Angel Flight,” which Radney recorded for his album Revival, went to No. 1 on the Texas Music Chart and has been performed at memorials, repatriation ceremonies and more. Officers cry, pilots choke up and most everyone who hears it can’t help but be moved by the story. Even in France, after I played it at a ceremony commemorating the liberation of Metz, the wife of a World War II veteran grabbed my arm to tell me, “I heard that song on the radio in the United States and I got chills.” I had a hard time keeping it together myself this summer when the National Guard gave me a medal to honor the song, especially when a soldier who had just returned from Iraq told me, “We listen to it over there, man, and you don’t know what it means to us.”
Radney made a poignant video of “Angel Flight,” and a portion of sales of the song (both his CD and online) is donated to the Texas National Guard Family Support Foundation. I’ll be including “Angel Flight” on my next album as well.
Since “Angel Flight,” I’ve started working directly with soldiers who have returned from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, to help tell their stories through songwriting. I’m incredibly proud to be working with the members of the military who serve our country.