For nine years, Lucas Hoge has traveled to army bases to perform for U.S. troops. It's an experience he envisions doing throughout his career and something he says has shaped him as an artist.

Taste of Country spoke with Hoge hours after his return from Mildenhall Air force Base in the U.K. to learn more about what he calls "Military May" — his month of philanthropy.

In 2009, Hoge visited troops overseas for the first time. He was there with a full band, and recalls that it was "a big stage and light tour." While it was a great first experience, he didn't get the connection with the troops that he was hoping for since there was little one-on-one time spent with the military. Upon his return he met Rob Powers, who suggested Hoge try out the Wrangler National Patriot Program. It's been a very different experience since — Hoge is in constant contact with the troops and sleeps in tents like they do, eats in their dining halls and spends most of his day with the soldiers. When it's time to perform, it's usually just the singer and a guitar.

"We're right there with them. We get to go to all the places they're working and they're telling us what they're doing," Hoge relates. "It's a great way to talk to them and let them tell us what they do day-to-day and give us the insight on what's going on over there. They miss their families and we're trying to bring a little home back to them."

Rob Powers, Wrangler Patriot Tour

Hoge's performances overseas are drastically different than from when he's on his own tour in the U.S. He frequently sings cover songs and tries his best to play whatever the troops request. He remembers one visit at Camp Stone in Afghanistan where the plane he was on crash-landed at the Marine and Special Forces base. One of the marines he met asked him if he knew any Steve Holy songs. He did, and they made a makeshift stage and microphone on the spot for Hoge to perform.

"There are lifetime memories from those men and women over there," Hoge says, getting nostalgic.

Things aren't always easy, however. Hoge vividly recalls being very close to the fighting lines while sirens went off on one base and missiles were being shot over the walls.

"This one time, we're sitting at a very small, small FOB [Forward Operating Base]. The IED siren goes off and I'm sitting there eating my lunch and this guy literally pulls me from my collar and throws me underneath the table. He's like, 'Get down! You didn't hear the siren?'" Hoge recalls.

Rob Powers, Wrangler Patriot Tour

This is something the troops deal with on a daily basis, and Hoge does not take them for granted. "These troops are passionate about our country," Hoge says. Every visit is a thank you match, as he's thanking them for what they do for our freedom and the soldiers thank him for taking the time to visit.

"I am so humbled and honored that our military keeps asking me to come over and entertain them. It feels like these tours have molded me and made me the artist that I am today," he says. "I go over there and I'm so inspired by all these men and women that have to sacrifice day in and day out, years at a time being away from their families, their kids, their brothers, sisters, moms, dads, and they're still doing it with a smile on their face."

Hoge's Wrangler National Patriot Tour wrapped in May. His single "Dirty South" is out now.

Country Artists Who Served in the Military

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