Basra Honky Tonk: Country Singer Brings Show to Troops

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305th MPAD, USD-S PAO

BASRA, Iraq – “On the heels of 9/11, I heard a quote from Teddy Roosevelt that said, ‘Every American has an obligation to do what you can, with what you have, where you are,'” said Michael Peterson, wiping the sweat from his face as it dripped down from underneath his white cowboy hat. “I was too old to join [the military], so I figured I could sing.”

Peterson, a country music singer with three top ten country hits, put on a show in Basra at the United States Division-South Resiliency Campus.

“What a thrill it is for me to be back,” said Peterson, who has been to Iraq three times this year.

Country music artist Michael Peterson performs a song for Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians assigned to United States Division South at the USD S Resiliency Campus stage in Basra.
Country music artist Michael Peterson performs a song for Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians assigned to United States DivisionSouth at the USD-S Resiliency Campus stage in Basra. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. James Kennedy Benjamin, USD-S Public Affairs)

Peterson, an Arizona native, not only sang, but talked to the crowd about his life changing experiences.

Sept. 11 was a turning point in his life, Peterson said.

“I never realized that I had built my life in such a way that my only purpose was to sell records and sell tickets and make payroll,” Peterson said. “I realized I wanted to be more than that.”

Peterson took a two-year break from the music industry to find his path, the one-man band said as he wiped the sweat off his hands and face caused by the humid weather.

People would ask him why he wasn’t performing anymore, he said.

“The best thing I can tell you is that after we did 700 shows in three years, which sort of felt like a deployment to me, I was tired,” he said.

After his two year hiatus, he returned to making music not only because he missed it, but because he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.

Country music artist Michael Peterson gets a reaction during a break between sets at the United States Division South Resiliency Campus stage in Basra.
BASRA, Iraq Country music artist Michael Peterson gets a crowd member’s reaction during a break between sets at the United States Division-South Resiliency Campus stage in Basra. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. James Kennedy Benjamin, USD-S Public Affairs)

Jill Chambers has been helping him with that. A retired Army colonel, Chambers worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff for 12 years, focusing on the health and wellness of Soldiers. Thanks to her determination, places like Basra now have resiliency campuses.

Because of her vision and insight, she planted the seed of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, Peterson said, and that seed has developed into the very stage he was performing at.

Aside from performing for troops, Peterson is also a national spokesman for a non-profit organization that supports military children through scholarship funds.

“It is a scholarship designed to help ensure that every young person, whose parents gave their lives to the service of our nation does not have to worry about paying for college,” Peterson said.

Peterson showed gratitude to Maj. Gen. Vincent Brooks, USD-S and 1st Infantry Division commander.

“I probably wouldn’t be doing this if he had not been encouraging, supportive, inviting,” said Peterson, who has known Brooks since 2005.

The evening continued with laughs and applause each time Peterson finished a set or spoke humorously about his life.

“It really is nice to be playing music again,” Peterson said. “I am still making music and we are having a lot of fun doing that.”

By Spc. James Kennedy Benjamin