Craig Morgan Pens Memoir About His Time in the Military and Loss of Son Jerry — Read an Excerpt

The country star talks to PEOPLE about his upcoming memoir God, Family, Country, which will be published by Blackstone Publishing on Sept. 27

Craig Morgan
Craig Morgan. Photo: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

Like many of the momentous decisions Craig Morgan has made in his life, writing a memoir was not part of a strategic plan to gain money and fame. Instead, it was a choice that came naturally, one guided by faith and instinct.

After the country star lost his 19-year-old son Jerry to a boating accident in 2016, people close to Morgan and his family were so moved by his resilience and faith, they encouraged him to write his life story. Morgan began to think it was a sign from God.

"We would start talking about certain things that have happened in my life, and especially after the loss of our son, after Jerry died, I'd meet people and they'd say, 'I don't understand how you have the attitude you have, after having lost your son,' " Morgan, 57, tells PEOPLE in a phone interview from his "off the grid" cabin, deep in the bush in Alaska.

"I realized that I had such a love for God that I was able to do something with that," the "That's What I Love About Sunday" singer recalls. "And I realized that, with so many people telling me, maybe God was trying to tell me something."

Morgan partnered with Jim DeFelice, one of the co-writers of Chris Kyle's bestselling autobiography American Sniper, to pen his own book. The result is Morgan's powerful memoir, God, Family, Country: Soldier, Singer, Husband, Dad—There's a Whole Lot More to Me, which will be published by Blackstone Publishing on Sept. 27. (See the cover art and an exclusive excerpt below.)

While Morgan reflects on Jerry's death in his book, he also shares his incredible personal trajectory, from his many years in the military — including working alongside the CIA in Panama and fighting off sex traffickers in Thailand when he was an undercover agent — to his rise in country music and his journey as a husband and father. (Morgan shares his surviving adult children, Aly, Kyle, and Wyatt, with his wife Karen Greer.)

Craig Morgan
Blackstone Publishing

"My objective is to inspire people," says Morgan, a contestant in the new reality series Beyond the Edge, in which celebrities compete for charity. The show will premiere on CBS on March 16.

"I want to motivate people to want to be better. It's up to us individually to make those decisions," he continues. "I just hope that when people see this, that they see that I'm not just some celebrity... I really want to make a difference in life and in the world and in people's lives. That's what the book, for me, is for."

Morgan's military experience will help him during the competition, but it also changed his life. Even his biggest fans don't know the full story, explains Morgan, who was a forward observer (a solider who operates behind enemy lines, directing fire) in Panama.

"I think when people read some of this stuff, they'll laugh about the fact that this country singer was in Panama with a CIA team," he jokes.

"There are things that I took from the military and that part of my life — it was a fun part of my life," Morgan explains. "Even some of the bad things that happened, some of the more difficult environments that I was in, all of these helped to make me the person that I am today."

Morgan won a number of military distinctions and was on his way to becoming sergeant major, when he decided to pursue his love of music, according to the book's press release. After taking on part-time jobs and pushing through some "lean years," Morgan came to national attention with his 2002 ballad "Almost Home." Since then, Morgan has found fame in country music (in 2008, he was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry) and as a TV personality.

Despite his musical prowess, Morgan turned to DeFelice when he was searching for a co-writer because he wanted someone who could truly capture his years in the military.

"More than half my life was spent in the military, so I felt it important to have someone that could understand the military aspects of my book, because that's such a big impact on the book and my life," says Morgan, who later learned that DeFelice also co-wrote Taya Kyle's memoir. (She is Chris Kyle's widow and Morgan's friend.) "So I ended up meeting with a few people, met with Jim DeFelice and just fell in love with the guy."

The men spent a year and a half writing God, Family Country. Morgan admits it was a sometimes painful process.

"It was extremely difficult at times, the conversations that we were having," says Morgan, who credits DeFelice for helping him through the process. "[Jim] was able to ask me the questions that would allow me to talk about the certain things that may have been difficult. But the way he worded the questions, it made more comfortable for me to converse about it."

Craig Morgan with his family, including his late son Jerry. Craig Morgan/Instagram

Morgan says that they both "cried" and "laughed" while writing out his story.

"I talk about our heartaches, our pain, but fortunately for me, I don't have a lot of ugly in my life, aside from our son and that was a difficult time," Morgan says of his memoir. "But my marriage is solid. My family is strong. My faith is empowering."

Family and faith are what got Morgan through the death of his son Jerry. Morgan explains that he knew a person who also lost a child. For seven years, "their life was terrible," he remembers.

"At one point, one of their other children said, 'Sometimes I feel like she wished it were me, because she was so distraught that she's forgotten that she had other children,' " says Morgan. "A terrible thing. So, having experienced that before we lost Jerry, I swore that I would never let that happen. I didn't want any of my children to ever feel that way."

Morgan composed one of his most personal songs, "The Father, My Son and the Holy Ghost," in 2019, which helped him heal after Jerry's death. The song deeply moved fans and fellow country stars.

The artist believes that "Jerry would be very proud of how we have dealt with his loss," he says. "I think he would understand and appreciate that our love for him is so great, and still is to this day and always will be, until I see him again."

Morgan also thinks Jerry would be "excited" about the book, as is his daughter Aly.

"He's still a part of our life. I tell people all the time, 'My son is not physically present, but he is still present physically in our lives. We still feel very much,' " says Morgan about feeling Jerry's presence. "The only difference between what's going on with my son Jerry and my son Kyle that I'm here with right now is I get to talk to my son Kyle. I don't get to hear my son Jerry talk back."

The army veteran hopes that his memoir will "inspire" people who have lost loved ones, fans and people who have never heard of him before. For Morgan, sharing both the good and bad in his life is important if he wants to help others.

"I just heard someone the other day say, 'You know what? When you write a book, you're giving it all out there. You're telling everyone everything,' " he says. "And that's true. In this book, I do."

Keep reading for an exclusive excerpt from God, Family, Country, in which Morgan remembers facing off an Iraqi strapped with an explosive vest during a 2006 visit to Baghdad, where he'd gone to perform for U.S. troops.

PROLOGUE: Facing the Music

February 2020, Ohio

It's a little past four in the afternoon, three hours and change before I walk on stage. The boys loaded our equipment out of the tractor trailer a couple of hours ago; we set up the stage with some help from the local crew and then worked through the sound check until everything was sorted.

I've played in bigger places but I'd be hard-pressed to think of one prettier, my Grand Ole Opry excluded. The theater is a gem from the 1920s, built for movies and vaudeville, with sweeping lines, elaborate wallpaper, and a painted ceiling with clouds that float across the surface. It's not so much a place of grandeur as one of poetry, the kind of setting that elevates what a performer does. It's also small-town in the best sense of those words: preserved by locals, funded for the most part by folk who come out to see acts from big to small and everything in between.

I reckon I'm on the big side of the ledger. What that mostly means is that after a bunch of hit singles and millions of albums and seemingly infinite downloads, the pressure is on me to perform. These folks coming out tonight will spend good money to be entertained—thrilled, moved, assured, inspired—and as great as my band is, I'm the one the audience is counting on. I have to take them where they want to be. For a few hours, at least.

I've been doing it now for—well, a long time. I'm grateful for that. A lot of people in this business, most performers, don't have the privilege of being on the stage so long, let alone the number of hits I've had. I have a deep sense of gratitude every day I get to stand on the stage. I can't hardly believe I do this for a freaking living. When I see all those people lining up, I get emotional sometimes. Because I still believe I don't deserve it.

But I'm not only a singer. My music doesn't define me. I'm not saying that it's not important or that I wouldn't miss it awful if it suddenly disappeared; I'm just saying there's more to me than that.

Like hunting. Fishing. Motorcycle racing. Being a dad and the best husband I can manage.

And a soldier.

I was a soldier for some of the best years of my life. It was hard, dangerous, occasionally crazy, but those years were tremendous. Heck, every so often, I think maybe I should go back, even if the army thinks I'm a little old to be jumping out of planes into the middle of a war zone or chasing drug-running rebels in a jungle.

Sure was fun, though.

I've had a lot of special experiences and opportunities, but at heart I don't think of myself as someone special. I'm just like most of the folks who I'll be playing for tonight: raised in a small town, weaned on a hundred odd jobs, happy to have settled down with their sweetheart, but still looking for a little fun and not opposed to cutting loose every so often when the workday's done. I love doing shows like this, where the venue is small enough to interact with the entire crowd. It's like a conversation. It's hard to do at the huge festivals and fairs that make up a decent part of my touring schedule, so I have to take advantage of places like this whenever possible.

Right now, though, I need time to prepare. Not so much to corral my thoughts as to concentrate my energy. To go all-in on the show. So I walk to the back of my bus, close the door, lie back on my bed, and think.

It was a long road to get here. I'm not talking about the eight hours through the snowstorm we came up through, though that wasn't much fun. The road I've traveled in my life has stretched from Nashville to Texas, Korea to Panama, from impromptu sing-alongs to the great heights of country music. It took me down a street in Iraq where terrorists tried to blow me up, and to a stage not far away where a few hundred soldiers reminded me why I'm so proud to be an American. It's taken me undercover to pits of filth where children are peddled for sex, and delivered me to a black-tie reception where a president kidded me about my shaving style.

It's taken me to fame and a bit of fortune. But it's also taken me to the saddest place on earth, that desolate hole you're crushed into when your child dies unexpectedly. It's been a road with grief, but also intense triumph and love.

Celebration. Service. Reckoning with God. Struggling to figure out how to be a man in a world where everything is changing and the ground just won't stay solid for too long.

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So much on this road has been out of my hands. I've done so much without thinking. A lot of it has been the right stuff, but I can't take credit for having thought it all out: you rush into a building on fire to drag a couple of kids to safety, not because someone's going to write it up in a newspaper and call you a hero, but because there just is no other thing to do in that moment.

You write a song about your son's passing not because you want to make a hit record or even relieve your grief, but because there just is no other way of living that morning until you get that song out of your head and onto the string of your guitar.

That's my life—a long road through a good country, with a whole lot of stops along the way.

Why country music?

I like a wide range of music, and some people, God bless them, think that with my voice I could sing a wide range of music.

I appreciate that as a compliment, but I prefer country.


Probably because I grew up in it, same reason I was a Baptist for so long. I love country music better than any other genre because, for me, it tends to tell a story better. And I think the majority of the stories are more relatable than you might hear in some of the other genres. Country is middle-class America's music, and the middle class is the majority of our nation.

But really, I'm a country boy. I live the country lifestyle. So that's what I write and sing. I still live in the woods down a chip and seal road. I still take my own garbage to the dump. I could pee off my front porch and nobody could see me.

Except my wife, who would object.

Seriously, country is the lifestyle of taking care of yourself and your own and your people and helping your neighbor. To me, that's the country lifestyle. When you walk into a store, they know you.

Now, though, before the show, I lie back on the bed in the back of the bus and think of my wife Karen, and how lucky I've been to have found her. I think about my kids—all of them blessings, even when they were trials, of which there were a few. I think of my dad, still a role model well into his golden years. I think about God, and the many mysteries of faith and religion.

My mind wanders across my long road, back and forth . . . bits and pieces of music come in my head, bits of songs I haven't written yet, pieces of something just out of reach.

I just think . . . until my road manager knocks on the door.

"It's time."

And like that, I'm all focused. There is no road behind, only ahead. There is nothing but the show, nothing but tonight, and those people I'm talking to with my music. I get up, and by the time my hand hits the door, I'm ready to do one of the many things I was born to do: Sing.

Sometimes, though, things go a little differently.

Like this, say:

2006, Iraq

Terrorists in Iraq were ratcheting up their war against US personnel and Iraqi citizens alike, attacking throughout the country. I had a hit album out—and a request to go to Iraq and perform for some of the troops with an organization called Stars for Stripes. I love doing my bit for the troops. For me, it's more than entertaining—it's almost like old home week. A lot of times I get to meet men and women I served with, including some of the generals who have moved up the ranks since I left.

And occasionally I'll do a little something for the government on the side—we'll tease that notion for later on.

Just being around soldiers again feels comfortable. I served in the army eleven years, with a few more on active reserves. I saw combat in Panama and the jungles of Costa Rica, earning Combat Parachute Wings—a badge of honor for anyone who has gone Airborne. Most of the time I was a forward observer trained to operate behind the lines in dangerous situations scouting the enemy and directing fire. I had a chance to work not only with the regular army, but with the high-speed folks from Special Forces, SEALs, Rangers, and "other government agencies" which shall not be named. A big challenge, but as rewarding as all get-out.

Those days were long gone in 2006 when my band and I landed in Baghdad. Things seemed calm enough as we boarded some Humvees and headed to the city. Next to me in the backseat was my good friend and band leader, Mike Rogers. He was both excited and tired—tired because it was a long flight, and excited because, well, we were in a war zone, and he'd never been before.

We were a few miles from the airport, in a convoy of military vehicles, when a couple of things happened all at once. An Iraqi stepped into the road ahead. The Hummers in front of us stopped. We stopped. I reflexively grabbed a rifle—

The man in the street had a vest.

Explosive vest.

Bam, bam—one of the soldiers ahead shot the man instants before he could detonate himself.

"Go," I growled. "Go! Go!"

Golden rule of travel in dangerous places: You do not linger, you don't stop. You travel at warp speed.

Meanwhile, my head was on a swivel, sighting down the road, looking to see the mujahideen's support team—or more likely, the next two or three bombers who'd be part of the ambush.

We got moving pretty fast, rushing on toward the base. I gave back the rifle—I'd pinched it from one of the soldiers escorting us, grabbing it before he even knew what was happening, I guess.

Mike looked at me in disbelief.

"What's up?" I asked, or something to that effect.

"You're eating M&M's."

I was. I can't remember if I offered him one or not.

Mike was amazed. To this day, he can't believe that, through that whole excitement, I apparently kept popping candy in my mouth.

Once a soldier, always a soldier, I guess. Whether you're going into combat or singing to a bunch of guys and gals who are.

From God, Family, Country: Soldier, Singer, Husband, Dad —There's a Whole Lot More to Me by Craig Morgan with Jim DeFelice. Used with the permission of the publisher, Blackstone Publishing. Copyright ©2022 by Craig Morgan and Jim DeFelice.

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