NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- What does it take to become part of the Grand Ole Opry? For most, it takes commitment, practice and hard work. The ability to sing helps. For a very few, all it takes is an invitation.
Fifteen female Soldiers from Fort Campbell were asked to share the stage with country singer Ayla Brown as she made her debut at the Grand Ole Opry. All 15 Soldiers wore combat patches, indicating they had served in a combat zone. The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country music stage show in Nashville that has been performed and broadcast on radio since 1925. The Opry has been called "country's most famous stage" and "the show that made country music famous."
Regular performers at the Opry included country legends such as Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Minnie Pearl. Recent stars include Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts and the Dixie Chicks. Add to that list Ayla Brown and Fort Campbell Soldiers.
The Soldiers provided a backdrop for Brown's song honoring female service members, "Hero in Her Hometown." Brown said a song honoring women who serve our country is long overdue.
"I thought of all the songs about the people who serve in our country's military and realized there are no songs about the brave women who help defend our country," she said.
The song tells the story of a small town homecoming queen that joins the Army, goes to war and returns a hometown hero. For Brown, the performance was validation that she made the right choice for a career path which included being a finalist on American Idol in 2006.
"I remember going to my first Opry show when I moved to Nashville two years ago," Ayla said. "I thought to myself, 'If I ever get to perform at the Opry then I'll know I've made it.'" For the Soldiers, the experience was an evening of VIP treatment. A backstage tour included the opportunity to chat with Brown and other Country stars including Vince Gill, Steve Warnier and John Conlee. As the Soldiers walked on stage, the audience gave them a standing ovation. The audience remained standing throughout the song. Sergeant 1st Class Andrea Howard said it was a once in a lifetime experience. "It was a huge honor to have the entire audience give us a standing ovation and to be part of Ayla Brown's debut," she said. "I came from a small town in Georgia, so I can identify with the song. I'm not a hero, but I'm proud to be part of a group to represent all the women who serve our country." Backstage, a Soldier took her "Screaming Eagle" combat patch from her right shoulder and presented it to Brown. Brown experienced time in a combat zone herself in November 2010, when she visited Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan and entertained 15,000 troops.