News: Texas country western singer Granger Smith marches for unsung heroes
Story by Sgt. John Healy
FORT HOOD, Texas - Since 2001, country-western artists have been more than vocal in their support of the American soldier. Songs about soldiers have topped the charts for nearly 13 years, yet how many artists can say that they went the extra mile?
Austin-based country singer Granger Smith not only went the extra mile, he went the extra 100 miles.
Smith began his walk in South Austin on Sunday, April 7. Over the span of five days, he marched, feet clad in a dusty pair of combat boots.
Throughout the walk Smith conducted daily radio interviews, talking about remembering to thank the men and women in the armed forces.
During every interview, Smith spent time encouraging listeners to donate to the Boot Campaign, a Texas-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting awareness of the issues faced by soldiers returning home and easing their reintegration to civilian culture.
“I really wanted to do something other than just doing a benefit concert or a celebrity golf tournament,” said Smith. “I wanted to do something that was a little more memorable, something that means a little bit more.”
“One of the symbols of the boot campaign and the symbol of our nations defenders is a combat boot, Granger put two and two together and said, 'You know what? I’m going to take a few days off from traveling and touring, and I’m going to wear a pair of the boot campaign’s combat boots from Austin to Fort Hood,'” said Meghan McDermott, director of communications for the Boot Campaign.
“The walk got started three years ago through one of our ambassadors, Granger Smith,” said McDermott. “Like all of us with the Boot Campaign, he had an awakening, and he just wanted to find his way to say thank you to our troops and those right now on the battlefield and across the world, and those who have previously served our country.”
Smith’s awakening came in the form of 2nd Lt. Peter Burks from Dallas, serving as a Platoon Leader with the 4th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment of Vilsek, Germany.
Smith met Burks during his first tour of Iraq in 2007. Both men were Texas born, growing up only three hours apart. They had even attended the same university, Texas A&M, in 1999.
Serving as Smith’s escort, Burks showed him around the forward operating base, taking him to the dining facility to meet the troops and to the range to shoot weapons.
Two weeks after Smith returned from the tour, he received an email from Burks’ fiancée. On Nov. 14, 2007, 2nd Lt. Burks was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.
“It really, really, had an impact on me,” said Smith. “She said that he was all excited about our music, and he was emailing her saying that you’ve got to check this guy out, here are his songs. Right after that he was killed. That’s when it got real for me.”
Smith’s experiences in Iraq only fueled his desire to do more to benefit the troops.
“After about day three your feet start barking a little bit, it gets a little tough, and I have to remember the reason why we’re doing it,” said Smith. “It’s just a small, small sacrifice in these combat boots compared to what you guys do for us every single day, all over the world.
“So I just have to remember that, just have to get past that mental pain a little bit and remember what this goal is all about.”
This year’s goal for fundraising is $20,000.
“That donation helps us make great strides toward getting a veteran or his or her family into housing,” said McDermott. “It helps fund our back to work program. $20,000 could supply hundreds of hours of counseling services for those with post traumatic stress disorder and other combat stress related troubles. So it’s pretty profound, what this goal will do if we reach it.”
Smith stopped at the Central Texas State Veteran’s Cemetery on April 10 to rest for the night, further than he had gone in his two previous years of making the 100 mile trek.
“It’s pretty symbolic to pick up there, start when that sun’s coming up on that cemetery,” said Smith. “It just kind of brings home what this means, and how powerful this sacrifice is, and how every day those men and women in the armed forces are risking that chance with what they’re doing and what they’re going to do, what they’re volunteering to do.”
Smith climbed the last hill to the Visitors Center minutes before 3 p.m. Thursday, just in time to stand at attention as the Cannon sounded and the flag was taken in for the night.
After five days of marching, Smith was still not finished, he still had more to give.
Thursday night, Smith performed a free concert at Fort Hood Harley-Davidson in Harker Heights with a portion of all vendor sales going to the Boot Campaign.
“I’ve been doing this walk all week, now I get to go back to my normal work, play a big concert and bring all the guys out there and do the big full band show like we’ve always done,” said Smith. “It’s going to bring home the reason why we walked, and I get to show what I’m allowed to do because of this freedom.”