Kellie Pickler: On a Mission to Serve
Interview and Story by Tawanah Reeves-Ligon
Not everyone has been called to serve as a member of our Armed Forces, but country star, actress, television host and philanthropist Kellie Pickler feels it’s her duty to serve the called.
By partnering with the USO (United Service Organizations), one of the nation’s leading nonprofit charities dedicated to members of the military and their families, Pickler, alongside other celebrities, gets the chance to give back to a community that means the world to her. “They have enabled me to be a part of something that matters,” she shared. “Working with the USO, it’s really all about keeping the families connected and keeping our servicemen and women connected with their loved ones.
We take a piece of home to them…when we do holiday tours, we take a professional athlete, a singer, comedian, actor, actress and just develop this show with them. We sign [autographs], laugh; we take pictures. We have breakfast, lunch and dinner. If they’re stationed somewhere where their families are able to be with them, we have family day. We get to break bread together and laugh and share their stories…break up the monotony of what they do.”
And Pickler, a North Carolina native, was a great choice for this role because she is a wiz at putting on a show. The now 35-year-old got her start in the industry in 2005 on the fifth season of American Idol, finishing in sixth place.
Her debut album sold over 900,000 copies, was certified gold and produced three top 20 singles on the Billboard “Hot Country Songs” charts. During her music career, Pickler has won or been nominated for numerous awards, such as the CMT Music Awards Breakthrough Video of the Year, Top New Female Vocalist of the Year, Female Video of the Year, Collaborative Video of the Year and Performance of The Year. She’s also won the prestigious Songwriter Award twice from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.
Later, after the release of her fourth studio album, The Woman I Am, Pickler went on to win the sixteenth season of Dancing with the Stars, alongside professional dancer Derek Hough in 2013. She would also go on to star in two successful television programs, I Love Killie Pickler, a reality show about her life with husband Kyle Jacobs, as well as Pickler & Ben, a daytime talk show she hosted for two years alongside influencer Ben Aaron.
Pickler has also starred in television movies for Hallmark, Christmas at Graceland, Wedding at Graceland and The Mistletoe Secret. However, for Pickler, these achievements are not the hallmark of her career or representative of her purpose. “…accolades, awards, that don’t matter. People matter,” Pickler said. “You never wake up after doing the right thing and think, ‘I wish I hadn’t done the right thing there.’ It’s easy to be kind; it’s easy to love your neighbor.”
For Pickler, her real job is about what happens offstage, “I know that I was not put on this Earth to just be a country singer, performer and entertainer. That’s just my vehicle to get me through the door. I know what my calling is. I know that my purpose in life is to be a voice for the broken, to be a sanctuary for people.
I’m not perfect by no means. I know my heart. I know my integrity. And that’s not for sale. I feel very blessed to be in a position where I can use my gifts and blessings…” As a USO Ambassador, Pickler is excited about taking the opportunity to give back to those who she knows are prepared to give everything for our citizens and our country.
According to her, “It’s imperative that they know (and that the families know) that we have their backs too. It takes a very selfless person to do what they do.” She is especially sensitive to the families of servicemembers, “The families serve. I’m very close with many Gold Star Families and Gold Star Wives. The USO is a community that’s very, very much needed.
When someone gets that folded flag at their front door, that dreaded conversation, it’s imperative that they have community around them, to love them, help them, be there for their children…The USO has kept so many families connected, and even connected me with these families, in a way that I can have a relationship with them and let them know that they aren’t alone.”
The USO sponsors many programs with these goals in mind and works in over 250 locations. Their programs, predominately, fall into one of four categories: Unites, Delivers, Entertains or Transitions. Each category represents one part of the mission to keep servicemembers in touch with the places, people and positivity they need to keep going.
Programs include, but aren’t limited to: the Bob Hope Legacy Program, which helps servicemembers read to their children virtually; USO Coffee Connections, which gathers military spouses together at monthly gatherings in comfortable spaces where they can share and relate; USO Care Package Program, which delivers familiar snacks, toiletries and hygiene essentials to troops, predominately those overseas; and of course their many resources for those transitioning (or who have transitioned) out of military service.
Participating in the promotion of these programs, as well as having the chance to meet and link with servicemembers and their families, has been a dream for Pickler.
Though she and her immediate family did not come from a military background, she still feels as though she can serve, love on and relate to these families in her own way.
“We all have so much more in common than we realize,” she said. “I do feel that in my line of work, the music business is all about putting truth in the form of a song. I believe that there’s several songs of mine that have been autobiographical where I was able to put a pinprick of my life into a song. But it’s helped people heal. I do believe in sharing parts of my story…” Pickler continued, saying that her time, her story and her music have “brought people together and helped people find closure in whatever it is that they’re going through.” And that’s where the fulfillment comes from for her.
“There are countless things that the USO has done [for our servicemembers], and, again, it’s been just very life changing for me to be a part of the USO family. I feel that’s the way that I can serve those who serve.”