To commemorate Armed Forces Day, tonight's CBS special, ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops , does something a TV show has perhaps never done before-- it gives servicemen and servicewomen the rare chance to perform with their favorite country artists.
Navy member Destiny Coates , who sings with Keith Urban , says it's especially significant for her, since she laid her musical aspirations aside to serve and protect our country.
"Performing here is a dream come true…So many people here wanted to sing, and I think we all gave up that dream…We make those decisions to serve, and it's really awesome how things turn around and…You don't have to give up on that dream just because you went towards another one."
Both Dierks Bentley and Lady Antebellum were really impressed by the musicianship of the military performers.
"One of these guys had a breakout line on 'Compass,' you'll hear him sing," Hillary Scott recalls. "It's like, it's awesome! It was just really, really cool."
"The fiddle player was really good," Dave Haywood chimes in, agreeing. "They're up there with all these A-list session guys that are in the house band."
But for Charles Kelley , the most poignant moment came when one of his fellow performers gave him a Kevlar bracelet in honor of one of his fallen comrades.
"He…gave it to me and said, 'Man, if he knew that you were wearing it and being up onstage and doing this.' I was like, 'I can't take this. This is like your friend that died in battle.' I was like, 'I can't do that," Charles remembers. "He's like, 'Just trust me. This would mean so much to me.'"
King of Country George Strait says the experience took him right back to his days as a soldier.
"I'm an ex-military guy myself. I served three years in the military," he recalls. "It was a great experience for me. It really was. I wouldn't trade those days for anything. So, just to be able to do my little thing with them, it makes you feel good, and I love doing it."
Carrie Underwood performs a new song she co-wrote. Proceeds from "Keep Us Safe" will go to the ACM's charitable arm, Lifting Lives. Dierks, on the other hand, sang his most recent number one, but "I Hold On" took on a whole new meaning.
"It feels very, kind of patriotic, in a sense, and a perfect song for that night. So, I was pretty fired up. I walked off the stage pretty excited," he remembers.
The Band Perry honors those who've paid the ultimate price with a performance of their breakthrough song, "If I Die Young."
"They sacrifice time away from their families, away from the comforts of our country for those who are overseas, and sometimes the ultimate sacrifice with their life," Kimberly Perry says. "It's just a true honor to get to honor these guys for their ultimate sacrifice."
Hunter Hayes says he hopes the collaborations between country artists and the military will become a tradition.
"It was a beautiful evening. It was absolutely awesome. The collaborations were really cool, too. I loved that aspect of it. I thought that was brilliant."
ACM Presents: An All-Star Tribute to the Troops airs tonight on CBS at 9:00 Eastern time.
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