While it's true patriotism means different things to different people in the U.S., Brad Paisley thinks we can all agree on one aspect: Military personnel should be treated with respect.
This belief spurred two recent actions: Paisley joined President Barack Obama on a trip to Afghanistan to perform for troops and took a moment recently to mock Westboro Baptist Church protesters outside a concert in Kansas. Members of that Topeka, Kansas, church sometimes conduct anti-gay demonstrations at military funerals in opposition to government policies.
"My patriotism starts there," Paisley said in an interview before performing at the CMA Music Festival on Sunday night. "We're talking about, I think everyone can agree — except maybe Westboro Baptist — on the fact our soldiers are our most important, the most amazing people that we've had."
Paisley, who has a new singing contest show, "Rising Star," that begins this month and a new album due in August, traveled to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan with Obama on May 25. The experience was still fresh when the son of a veteran encountered protesters outside his show June 1.
The 41-year-old West Virginia native took a selfie while making a face with protesters in the background and posted it to Instagram with a mildly profane caption that mocked the church. Paisley says it's a topic he spends time thinking about and wrote a new song, "American Flag on the Moon," that deals with the topic of patriotism for the new album, "Moonshine in the Trunk."
"I feel like I'm one of those people that defies category," Paisley said. "I'm all over the map in a lot of ways, but I feel like being on a journey of trying to figure out how to make this country better is a healthy thing and something I like to look into. I don't know any answers to it. But, you know, sort of daily it's easy to look at something and say here's what you should be doing. It's harder and more of my approach to look at something and say, 'OK, what are both sides.'"
While in Afghanistan in a hangar jam-packed with surprised soldiers on Memorial Day Weekend, Paisley posed for a picture with Capt. Brandon Archer, who mentioned he'd be shipping out soon and planned to attend CMA Fest.
Archer arrived home last Monday and Paisley invited him and his wife, Jean — the two Army captains are based at nearby Fort Campbell in Kentucky — to visit him backstage. The medevac helicopter pilot arrived with a gift — a small American flag.