Toby Keith will mark his 20th anniversary as a recording artist next year, but the country music superstar is more proud of the milestone he celebrated this year: completing his 10th United Service Organization tour.
The Oklahoma native's association with the USO has taken him to Afghanistan, Iraq and a dozen other countries to perform more than 190 shows for military personnel.
“It's just more important. I mean, (it's) the reason I get to go do this 20 years, you know, I couldn't do this ... in Libya. I wouldn't have the freedoms to conquer and accomplish my goals in Afghanistan. And the reason that I get to live in Disneyland and do what I do — the absolute only thing — it isn't government, it isn't my right to bear arms, it isn't any of that, it isn't my constitution. Every bit of that is protected by those people who are willing to do that job every day. The rest of it's just paper,” Keith said.
“I went one time for my dad, and it was like a drug. It was like, there's such a void here. There's such a need,” added Keith, whose late father was a military veteran.
On Thursday, the Norman resident will be honored for his support of the U.S. Armed Forces and his efforts to help pediatric cancer patients. Keith, along with former Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh and his wife, Donna Nigh, have been chosen for the 2012 JFK Community Service Awards.
About the awards
The Oklahoma City Knights of Columbus Council 1038 established the awards through its Uniting Our Community project in 2007 to recognize Oklahomans who have served the greater community in lasting and meaningful ways.
Donna Nigh is being recognized for her longtime advocacy for children and adults with special needs. In her role as the state's first lady and through the Donna Nigh Foundation, established in 1985, she has worked to ensure that people with special needs are safe, cared for and treated with dignity.
Her support of group homes for the developmentally disabled “dramatically improved living environments and subsequently created higher standards of specialized care,” according to a news release.
“Mrs. Nigh's work on behalf of the developmentally disabled — and especially her recent work with the Center of Family Love in Okarche — speaks to her decades-long advocacy for quality of life improvements in the care available to the mentally and physically disabled in our state, citizens who often cannot speak for themselves,” said former Gov. David Walters, chairman of Uniting Our Community.
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Read more of Brandy McDonnell's new interview with Toby Keith in the Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.