During Uncertain Year, Brantley Gilbert Is Certain About One Thing: ‘Helping Veterans’

by Matthew Wilson

Brantley Gilbert feels like his work is never done. While country music fans know him for hits like “Bottoms Up” and “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” Gilbert has gained a reputation for a different kind of work since topping the charts a decade ago. Brantley has been committed to helping U.S. service members and veterans—any way he can.

With the country music industry—and much of the nation—still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gilbert may not know what 2021 has in store for him. But he plans to help military members and veterans any chance he gets.

In an exclusive interview with Outsider, Gilbert said no opportunity is too big or too small. It’s been the country singer’s mission statement for much of his career. 

“It’s kind of like 2020 at this point. You never know what you’re going to be able to do. I’m still frustrated with it. It’s hard to even talk about,” Gilbert told Outsider. “But as far as working with veterans, I can tell you this, any opportunity that comes across the table, if there’s a possibility, in any way, form, or fashion we can be involved, we take it.”

Brantley wants to honor the military members who put their lives, bodies, and minds on the line to protect the country. It’s a debt that Gilbert believes every American should return in kind, and something he personally holds himself responsible for. 

“Selfishly, there has been a positive change in my life every single time we’ve taken those opportunities,” says Brantley. “At the same time, I feel like we owe a debt of service. In particular, because I didn’t make that debt of sacrifice for my country. I didn’t put my life on the line for my country. I owe a debt of service to the folks who did.”

Brantley Gilbert’s Hometown Veterans

Brantley Gilbert’s passion to help military members started with his Uncle Jimmy. The country singer’s uncle was one of 2.7 million Americans who served in the Vietnam War. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, an estimated 30 percent of Vietnam veterans developed post-traumatic stress disorder in the years after, much like Jimmy.

At the time, Gilbert’s family didn’t realize the severity of Jimmy’s PTSD. Like most Vietnam veterans, the disorder went largely untreated. Later in life, Gilbert saw firsthand the toll war can have on soldiers when his best friend from high school came home from active duty.

“One of my best friends from high school came home,” says Brantley. “And that was the first time I really, really saw some of the transformations and exactly what PTSD looked like. That hit closer to home. That’s the hardest part of this battle. That’s something we can’t relate to or understand. You’re trying to hit a moving target.”

That’s when Brantley decided to use his platform to help active service members and veterans.

Walking the Walk

Many celebrities support charities or dabble in humanitarian efforts. But Brantley Gilbert’s support of military service members permeates all aspects of his life. The country singer’s voice bubbles with enthusiasm as he details some of his encounters with veterans over the years. Such experiences have left him both overjoyed and heartbroken.

In 2020, Gilbert partnered with the Farmer Veteran Coalition to give Kubota tractors to five veteran farmers. The enterprise combined Gilbert’s mission to help veterans and his desire for increased sustainability. Or as he tells it, “saving the country.”

“I always thought of farming as a family thing,” Gilbert says. “A lot of these guys and gals are running farms that have been in their families for generations. But a lot of them are [also] first-generation farmers.”

Speaking of family, Gilbert also teamed with his wife, Amber, to help disabled veterans. The passion project stemmed from Amber’s love for animals, dogs in particular. The couple partnered with the Atlanta Humane Foundation to pair abandoned pets with disabled veterans.

“One of the best things about working with veterans and the organizations that support them is the various ways they’re trying to help,” says Gilbert. “And the different things they’re bringing to the table.”

A Soldier’s Legacy and Loss

Brantley Gilbert’s support of veterans has also served as musical inspiration. Gilbert wrote “One Hell of an Amen” based on a soldier who served alongside his friend overseas. The soldier died serving his country in Iraq in 2007. The tune, which topped the chart in 2015, focused on the legacy and various loved ones that a person leaves behind after they’re gone.

“I felt like he grew up with us. He was the missing brother that I didn’t know. His legacy just meant so much to [my friend] Josh and his loss,” Gilbert says. “I saw what it did to my best friend. That’s just one of those things that kind of stuck. I thought about how people continue to live through legacy. Being a person who is admirable enough to be inspirational even when you’re gone is huge.”

Gilbert’s Tribute to the Ones That Sacrificed

Music can be a great unifier, capable of conveying love and loss vast distances apart. During his career, Gilbert has held private concerts for service members as well. For instance, in 2019, Gilbert celebrated the launch of his album, Fire & Brimstone, with a concert for military members at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Brantley Gilbert’s home and his Dawg House (a garage turned into a hang-out spot and studio), is adorned with mementos from veterans. Over the years, Brantley’s fans have gifted him various medals and badges they earned in the line of duty.

Among his most cherished is a Purple Heart that a wounded veteran gav him. No matter what he does, Gilbert said he’ll never earn that medal. And so, he keeps helping as many as he can with the platform he’s built.