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Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood + More Come Together for All-Star Salute to the Troops

Ethan Miller, Getty Images

CBS took a night off from regularly scheduled programming to help the Academy of Country Music pay tribute to our troops. The Academy had big-time country talent and military join together to celebrate the hard work these men and women put in on a daily basis.

Keith Urban kicked off the night with US Navy STGC Destiny Coates, a self-proclaimed country lover and big Urban fan. He made her dreams come true when she was able to join him on vocals during ‘For You.’ At the end of the performance, they embraced and Urban motioned for the crowd to give it up for the hero.

Lady Antebellum had not one but two Marine captains join them for ‘Compass.’ Marine Capt. John Ed Auer played violin to the group’s hit and Capt. Matt Smith sang harmony — harmonies that even seemed to blow away the trio. Luke Bryan‘s solemn performance began with a heartfelt speech. He said since he never served, participating in nights like these are the best way he knows how to show them his thanks. The crowd seemed appreciative as they sang along and one man was even shown with tears in his eyes while Bryan played and sang.

US Air Force Staff Sgt. Baily Zimmerman had a special person in mind as she sang ‘Red High Heels’ with Kellie Pickler. Her brother was recently killed on duty and she sang in his honor. When Zimmerman was shown on a video reading her invitation letter to sing she could only happily exclaim, “I love that song!”

Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Katie Spira helps keep her crew upbeat by singing, so she was beyond excited to join Hunter Hayes in Las Vegas. They surprised the crowd by singing the Imagine Dragons hit, ‘On Top Of The World.’ She didn’t seem nervous at all, probably because she’s used to being a leader. She runs a crew of 22 and is the only woman among those men.

Dierks Bentley, whose father served in the military, sang ‘I Hold On’ which he said was pretty much “tailor made” for a night like this. Tim McGraw performed a new song, ‘Keep On Truckin’,’ and reminded everyone that if we’re not fully living we aren’t honoring the service men and women. “Grab life, kick it in the ass” to show them how appreciative we are, he said.

The Band Perry asked Army Spc. Kelly A. Gregg to join them on stage for the emotional song, ‘If I Die Young.’ Gregg didn’t just showcase her vocal chops, she also played guitar alongside the sibling trio and it was clear she impressed everyone in the house. Although Carrie Underwood sang solo, she did something else very special. She wrote a song called ‘Keep Us Safe’ especially for the event. She sang in a sparkling white gown in front of a video screen full of emotional military photos. As soon as it premiered on the special, it was also placed on iTunes for a good cause. Proceeds from the song benefit Lifting Lives.

Florida Georgia Line kicked it up a notch and represented their home states with special shirts they wore during their energetic performance of ‘People Back Home.’ Then, Marine Lt. Col. Mike Corrado made one of his dreams come true when he got to join Toby Keith and Scotty Emerick for ‘Call A Marine.’ Corrado even brought his ‘Red Solo Cup’ on stage for the performance of a lifetime.

Bryan hit the stage again to introduce country powerhouse couple Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton for ‘Over You.’ Their powerful song about missing someone was met with dim lights and quiet from the crowd. One Navy Seal got a big honor when he got to introduce his personal friends in the Eli Young Band for their version of the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic ‘Gimme Three Steps.’ “We get to follow our dreams because of you. Thank you,” they said at the end of their performance.

Rascal Flatts predicted that their performance of ‘Rewind’ with Marine Staff Sgt. Brandon Valentine would be a highlight of their career. Next, ACM Entertainer of the Year winners and country legends joined together to give their thanks to the military. George Strait, who was in the military for three years and credits the military to starting his country career, joined Merle Haggard on stage for Haggard’s song ‘Fightin’ Side Of Me.’

U.S. Army Sgt. Christiana Ball joined Lee Brice for ‘I Drive Your Truck,’ a song about an Army soldier who died while fighting for freedom. Brice looked at Ball for much of the performance while the two shared an intimate moment during a beautiful song. Keith’s ‘American Solider’ closed the evening’s festivities as the crowd waved their hands and cheered for the song. Before he finished, 12 service men and women joined him on stage in front of an energetic crowd. Two military stars surprised Keith with a huge honor when they gave him the Spirit of the USO award. Keith’s face showed just how shocked he was to receive the honor. “That’s awesome,” he mouthed. “That caught me off guard a little bit,” he admitted. “I want to thank the USO. I salute the troops. God speed.”

Ethan Miller, Getty Images
Ethan Miller, Getty Images
Ethan Miller, Getty Images
Ethan Miller, Getty Images
Ethan Miller, Getty Images
Ethan Miller, Getty Images
Ethan Miller, Getty Images
Ethan Miller, Getty Images
Ethan Miller, Getty Images
Ethan Miller, Getty Images
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Next: See All Winners From the 2014 ACM Awards

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