Craig Morgan Can Finally Talk About It [Interview]
A moment of levity among Craig Morgan's harrowing descriptions of military missions in God, Family, Country comes as he's chronicling the wind-down of his involvement in the United States invasion of Panama in 1989.
Chapter 4 of his memoir is titled "War," and it's here that — for the first time — Morgan (a decorated Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army) describes leaping from a Blackhawk helicopter amid heavy gunfire. The jump was further than he estimated, and he dislocated his shoulder when he hit the ground, but continued the mission for several minutes before a medic was able to pop his arm back in. The chaos, followed by the groans and cries of the injured, is cinematic, to put it mildly.
A short time later, Morgan is part of a company assigned to guard the secured but-not-yet-searched Presidential Palace of Manuel Noriega. The group discovers one booby trap before it's too late and are investigating further when they come upon the Panamanian leader's Christmas gifts. Dozens of bottles of champagne, including one earmarked for Muammar Gaddafi, were discovered.
"Rumor has it," Morgan writes, that that bottle "made its way from that stash into someone's private collection." It now rests in the United States in a "secure storage area," to be popped on a date TBD.
"I think a lot of times, we put too much emphasis on physical things," Morgan says. "In my business, the music business, guys have guitars that they’ve had since they very first started. I’ve got a bunch of guitars, but to me, they’re tools. It’s like if I were a contractor and had a bunch of hammers."
So goes God, Family, Country, an insightful look into the U.S. military, the business of country music and the life of a man who has navigated his family through more ups and downs than fans ever knew. Early on, Morgan reveals a wife and child he's never spoken about publicly before he gets to the top secret details of his military career.
"We kind of got approval," he tells Taste of Country, referring to his war stories. "We got approval on some of the stories that was basically, 'We can neither confirm nor deny,' which is approval in my book.”
Morgan's discretion likely extends past any guidance his former superior officers may have provided but that's not to say his confessions won't rattle a few cages. There's nothing fluffy about about this book, and the details don't need further provocation.
When he was wrong, he admits it. When he was done wrong, he calls it out. At the end of his conversation with Taste of Country, he admits that a few music executives may call him up soon, upset that he's shared details of how his separation from a record label went down, but no one will say he isn't being truthful.
Early in the book, you reveal that you got married soon after high school and had a daughter before the marriage ended in divorce a short time later. Could you share a little about what that relationship with your daughter is like today and how your other children and wife Karen have welcomed her?
Oh, she loves her. She’s our daughter, that’s what we say. She has a mother, but my wife feels like her mom, as well. She’s has another mom and we love her. It’s greater now than it has ever been. She’s grown and has a couple of kids, so we don’t see them near as often as we would like to, but quite honestly we don’t see our own children that she birthed as much, either.
It was a long time in the works, just because of geographical separation, but I always took care of her. I always did what I was asked to do and supposed to do and felt obligated to do. I just missed out a whole lot on her early life.
That’s why, when I wrote this book, I said, "I’m not here to bash anybody." Things happened and it is what it is and was what it was, and now we’re at where we’re at. I’m just grateful to God that we do have her (Marisa) in our lives and we get to spend time with her now.
On the second-to-last page of the book, your collaborator Jim DeFelice writes that "most people have trouble reconciling their ideas of warrior with songwriter." Did you ever struggle with that?
(Laughs) I’m still working on it. I see myself still today as a soldier. I spent a third of my life in an occupation that if someone knew who I was or where I was or what I was doing, I was screwing up. And now I’m in an occupation where if people don’t know who I am, where I am or what I’m doing, I’m not doing my job right.
(I was) walking down the airport six months ago — I was with my wife and we were walking through the airport going to Alaska, and I said, "Is there something on my face? … Everybody keeps starting at me." She said, "You’re Craig Morgan, you idiot!" (Laughs)
You've said that you were excited for people to read more about your military career, because a lot of it, you couldn’t talk about before. Which parts were you excited to write about, and why now?
In the military and my occupation, we all signed letters of non-disclosure. Literally, there was stuff that I had signed NDAs on in that occupation, a lot of those people know even though they’ve signed that, they go around that and they get approval. A lot of people in our business kind of get ticked off about that. So I felt obligated to not talk about those things that took place until such a point in time that the things that we did, or that I may be discussing, have zero impact on mission success.
You create a vivid picture of the missions you were a part of and the dangers you faced. Did you experience any PTSD after missions or at other times?
No, I never did. In my mindset, my headspace, everything that I ever did was justified. No matter how — what some may consider — bad, difficult, whatever. Everything that I did was completely justified, and I still believe that to this day.
I think that’s the problem with a lot of service members that do deal with the PTSD, they struggle with justification. I attribute that to a lot of other people who have no idea. You can’t even sit down with a psychologist if he’s never served in the military or never held on to a guy who’s just got his legs blown off, and try to give you some dang perspective on that and try to tell you how to deal with it … if you’ve not done it, it’s hard for you to tell someone how to process that.
The closest I’ve come to having any type of issue is coming back from Thailand after experiencing what I experienced there on one particular mission. In the beginning of that mission I seen something that just had me so angry and so frustrated, mainly because I’m the kind of guy that when I see something negative being done like that, I’m going to step up, and because of the mission, I was unable to do what I felt like I should be doing.
You’re referring to the child sex ring mission and your role in breaking it up (Feb. 2016, described in Ch. 8)?
Over the last several years, you’ve been quite vulnerable talking about personal loss. In this book we see you made some professional sacrifices, as well. How much did it hurt when you couldn’t complete Ranger School on two separate occasions?
Not at all. I’m a true, firm believer in what happens is supposed to happen. And sometimes that stuff happens because you’re not paying attention to what God is telling you. Maybe you’re trying to be somewhere where he don’t want you. I ended up working with the Rangers for years, but at those particular times, it wasn’t where I was supposed to be, and I accept that.
I’ve been doing this music thing for 20 years and I keep thinking this is not where God wants me, but every time I think that, he does something else that assures me that I am where I’m supposed to be.
Theoretically, what occasion would be good enough to crack open a bottle of champagne meant for Muammar Gaddafi from Manuel Noriega that a soldier might have taken from the palace?
For me, there’s nothing that I care enough about that I would bust open that bottle. That bottle is going to pay for my son’s business that he’s doing up in Alaska (laughs).
Does your training make you more or less nervous about the foreign conflicts the United States is involved in now?
Probably more nervous. Having dealt with as much as I have in my life and having a great deal of appreciation and a great deal of information — probably more than most people — yeah, it makes me nervous. We’re in a strange place. We’ve always been the No. 1 nation and I feel like we’ve flipped in that arena in the last years, couple years. We just have to be real careful. Sometimes show of force is all you need. We’ve managed to be that. We were so strong and everyone knew it. The instant that other nations start thinking that we’re no longer be that strong of a nation, they’re going to take full advantage of it. It makes me nervous.
You’re very honest about your experiences with record labels and why those relationships dissolved. Do you expect any calls by people who might be upset?
I don’t know if they are. I told the truth. If they do, it’s OK, and we’ll have a discussion. For example, Broken Bow — I talk about my early departure there. Guess where I’m at right now?
Broken Bow (laughs). It’s the truth, it’s the reality. I think it’s important that people understand that we as entertainers, especially recording artists, things aren’t always hunky-dory in our world. We have bad days at our jobs just like everyone else.
The business of being a musician and family man is almost a fourth theme beyond God, Family, Country. Do you owe that pragmatism to the discipline and realism of being a solider, or is it just that a man who’s pushing 60 thinks about that more than a man who's closer to 30 years old?
I definitely think it’s due to the military and reality. A lot of people live in a fantasy world coming into this business — they have these desires to be famous. To me, fame was always a bi-product of the wealth, and I don’t mean that in a negative sense. I’m extremely grateful for everything that’s happened, but I had a family, and to me, the primary objective was to ensure that I was going to take care of my family.