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Hunters awed by Tippin's war zone tales


News staff writer

SAFFORD -- It's not often that a man learns his true self-worth. Country music star Aaron Tippin found the harsh reality not in Nashville, but in Pakistan.

"They told me as soon as I got there that if I took one step off the airbase, that to some of the people in Pakistan I would be worth $50,000 dead and $100,000 alive," said Tippin, who entertained U.S. troops on a Thanksgiving USO Tour with Bob Hope last year. "It was the Muslims' holy month of Ramadan. We could hear their chants all night long. We were that close."

Tippin was in safer confines this past week as he joined 11 physically challenged hunters and comedian Jeff Foxworthy in the 2003 Buckmasters Classic Life Hunt. His tales of performing concerts in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kurdistan and Qatar kept the hunters and hunting guides spellbound.

"In Kandahar, they explained to us that if we started hearing rockets landing near us during the night to get up and get dressed quickly and they'd get us in a bunker," Tippin explained. "We were just 25 miles from what they called a hot zone. You'd see Black Hawks and Apaches go tearing out of there and you knew they weren't going to play."

Tippin said he knew he was stepping into a situation potentially more dangerous than when he performed with Hope during the Gulf War, but he believed it was his duty.

His concert performances during the Gulf War launched the career of the then little-known artist.

"Somehow, Bob Hope's daughter had heard my song `You've Got to Stand for Something (or You'll Fall for Anything)' and she called and wanted me to go on the tour with them during Christmas of 1990," Tippin recalled. "It was my big break. When they called again I never considered not going."

That song became the anthem for the Gulf War and by 1991 became a Top 10 single.

His career has skyrocketed. His singles "There Ain't Nothing Wrong with the Radio," "Working Man's Ph.D.," "That's as Close as I'll Get to Loving You," and "Kiss This" have put him among country music's elite. His latest hit, "Stars and Stripes" has also hit a patriotic chord and was a big hit on his latest USO Tour.

That hit, which reached No. 2 on the charts, was released one year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Proceeds were donated to the families of victims of 9/11.

Tippin, dressed in his camouflage after Tuesday's hunt, said his career has been thrilling for someone who never intended to be a country music artist.

"I had no aspirations of becoming a singer," he said. "My dad was a pilot so I became a pilot. That's what my dad intended me to do, that's what my family intended for me to do and that is what I intended to do. I was flying by the time I was 14 and when I was 16 I soloed. I got my ratings when I was 22 and I was off to become an airline pilot."

The energy crunch of the 1980s spun Tippin's life in a completely different direction.

"The airlines started laying off senior captains and I could see the handwriting on the wall," he said. "My dad was so disappointed. I had played the guitar around the airport and played some parties and stuff. I was trying to make some money to get by. I was working the midnight shift at an aluminum rolling mill in Russellville, Ky., and driving to Nashville during the day to do a little songwriting.

"I never dreamed I'd ever do anything but play in honky tonks."

Tippin's song "You've Got to Stand for Something (or You'll Fall for Anything)" was produced by a small record company and got some limited radio play. The call from Bob Hope changed everything.

"I'm as shocked as anybody how this has all turned out," he said. "I don't really think I am all that good, just real different. Kind of like Willie Nelson."

The fame and money are nice, he said, but his stardom is best used to do things he wouldn't otherwise get to do. He has flown with the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds, and in Afghanistan he sat down to dinner with Gen. Tommy Franks, who presented him with a Bowie knife. Tippin said he's still not far removed from being an old country boy, so the knife impressed him.

"I've been shooting guns since I was four and I've been deer hunting since I was a teenager," he said. "I don't care much for that fishing. I like to hear that gun crack."

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Jan 27, 2003

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