WASHINGTON -- All five sides of the Pentagon reverberated with the patriotic sounds of country music as more than a thousand service members and DoD civilians packed around the building's courtyard stage to hear a tribute concert to the troops today.
Country musicians Craig Morgan, Keni Thomas and Rockie performed for the crowd.
All three singers have served in the Army. Morgan was an Army Ranger who saw combat while serving in Panama in 1989. Thomas is also a former Ranger and combat veteran, who served in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. Rockie enlisted in the Army fresh out of high school and served with the 50th Signal Battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C.
The concert was part of the first America Supports You Salute to the Men and Women of the Armed Forces. America Supports You is a Defense Department program designed to highlight how Americans across the country are supporting the troops.
The concert was broadcast live worldwide on the Pentagon Channel.
Rockie kicked-off the show with a three-song set that concluded with his patriotic tune "Red, White and Blue." The song speaks to the fact that the U.S. military is comprised of individuals from all walks of life, yet when it comes to protecting the nation, they form a selfless and cohesive unit.
Rockie's military experience was a turning point in his life, helping fund his musical training and giving him a deep appreciation for the sacrifices service members make everyday, he said.
"The America Supports You program, in my opinion, is the single most important statement we've ever made during a conflict in our nation's history," Rockie said.
Following Rockie's performance, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took the stage and thanked the musicians and crowd for coming.
He reassured the audience he wasn't going to sing. "But if I could sing like Rockie," he said, "you'd be darn sure I would."
Rumsfeld also thanked several special guests, wounded service members from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, for their service.
The secretary turned the stage over to Keni Thomas, whose performance included the song "Not Me," an ode to the men and women of the armed forces who voluntarily serve when they could have opted out by saying "Not Me."
"Most of us go through life wondering if we made a difference, but folks in the American military don't have to worry about that problem because they make a huge difference everyday," Thomas said.
The next break between singers included the announcement that Lowe's, the home-improvement chain, had joined the America Supports You program.
Bob Gfeller, Lowe's senior vice president of marketing and advertising, introduced Jimmie Johnson, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet car and current points leader of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. Johnson appeared via satellite from Darlington, S.C.
Johnson thanked the troops for their service and sacrifice and invited the secretary to unveil the two cloth-draped Lowe's-sponsored NASCAR vehicles parked at the front of the Pentagon courtyard concert stage.
After whipping off the covering to the sounds of piped-in roaring exhausts, Rumsfeld quipped, "Do we get to drive these things?"
Johnson then presented Rumsfeld with a NASCAR decklid (trunk) adorned with the America Supports You logo. During all of May, National Military Appreciation Month, the decklid of Johnson's No. 48 car will sport the America Supports You logo in honor of the troops.
Gfeller also announced that Lowe's will be offering free home-repair clinics at military bases around the country.
The co-authors of the home improvement and repair book "Dare to Repair," Julie Sussman and Stephanie Glakas-Tenet, will accompany the tour. The authors were on hand to pass out free, signed copies of the book.
"The book is fantastic in teaching people how to maintain their home," Gfeller said.
Headline performer Craig Morgan closed out the concert. His performance included his No. 1 hit, "That's What I Love About Sundays."
Morgan said he is firmly behind the America Supports You program because it is truly about the troops.
While he was in the Army, Morgan was grateful for the support of the American people, and that he appreciates the sacrifices service members make to keep America safe, he said.
"I believe with all my heart if it were not for the men and women of our armed forces, fighting terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, we'd be fighting it at home," Morgan said.