Charlie Daniels Honors Chris Young and Willie Horton at Inaugural Patriot Awards

Charlie Daniels Chris Young
Erick Anderson

Charlie Daniels and Chris Young at the Charlie Daniels Patriot Award dinner on Sept. 18, 2018 in Nashville, Tenn. 

Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Daniels presented RCA Nashville recording artist Chris Young and Nashville businessman Willie Horton with the first ever Charlie Daniels Patriot Awards Tuesday night (Sept. 18) at the annual fundraising dinner for The Journey Home Project (TJHP), a nonprofit Daniels and his longtime manager, David Corlew, founded in 2014 to support veterans.

"Our main criteria is people who have a heart for veterans and really care and try to do something for them," Daniels says of the honorees. "We wanted to recognize people who care and have been doing something for a long time like Chris. Chris has been there for a while. Chris has very quietly been a big supporter of our veterans."

Young was humbled to get the recognition. "It's a huge, huge honor," Young tells Billboard of receiving the first Patriot Award. "It's pretty incredible that Charlie thought of me. He's a great man. I've got a lot to live up to if he likes me. Beyond what a great career that man has had and all he's accomplished musically, his philanthropic efforts are unmatched."

Daniels enthusiastically supports various causes, but helping veterans is especially close to the 81-year-old icon's heart. "I've been a lifelong patriot. My formative years were during the second World War," he tells Billboard. "From the time I was five till about 10-years-old, the war was going on. I lived it day in and day out. My folks listened to newscasts and we'd get the causality reports. I came up in that atmosphere and I say on stage every night, 'The only two things protecting America are the grace of God and the United States military,' and we should honor both of them."

Like Daniels, Young has long been a staunch supporter of the military. "My sister and brother-in-law were in the Marine Corps. I've got a cousin in the military and my grandfather was in the military," says the Tennessee native, who has performed for troops in South Korea, Iraq, Germany and Japan. "I sat on the board of Stars for Stripes for a long time, which is a nonprofit [sending entertainment to troops overseas]. There are wonderful opportunities to play for the military and give them the respect they deserve. Trying to give them some entertainment every now and then is such a small thing, but it's a big thing to them. One of the times we were over there we did a FOB hop, went to a forward operating base called Camp Shocker. It's on the border of Iraq and Iran. We were the first non-military entertainment that had ever been there. Things like that are really, really special."

During the evening, there was a silent auction to raise money for TJHP and there were various speakers including former New York City police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik and military vets Mark "Oz" Geist, Kyle E. Lamb, and David Rutherford. "It's important for the veterans at these events to see the outpouring of admiration, love and support that so many give. To me, that's so fulfilling as a veteran," says Geist, who served in the Marine Corps. "Events like what Charlie and David Corlew do are just terrific."

The event was sponsored by The Palm, Military Systems Group, Empire Distributors of Tennessee, Inc., the Shepherd Center, Wondergraphics, APA, UES (Utility Equipment Service), MTSU's Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center, Outback Concerts and Team Construction.

A jacket worn by Kerik at Ground Zero was auctioned off for $80,000 and will include a trip to New York with Kerik talking about his experiences at the 9/11 site. Young performed during the event, delivering a powerful rendition of "The Dashboard" from his second album, The Man I Want to Be. Penned by Monty Criswell, the song chronicles a Marine leaving his beloved Ford truck in the hands of his brother until he returns home from war. "I thought about it and I could do something people hear me play all the time, but I wanted to do something different," says Young, who will be performing for a sold out crowd across the street from The Palm on Sept. 22 at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.

Horton, former CEO of Military Systems Group and a longtime veterans supporter, also received the Charlie Daniels Patriot Award. "Willie has always been here for us," says Corlew. "Willie has been our title sponsor every year. We're honored to have him here."

"He began helping years ago and he's one of the most solid folks we've ever had," Daniels says of Horton's support of TJHP. "We want to honor the people who really care."

The mission of The Journey Home Project is to support veterans in their return, rehabilitation, and reintegration back into civilian life. "It's progressed more than I ever dreamed it would," says Corlew says of the organization he and Daniels launched five years ago. "Although we've not grown in board size or operating cost size, we've grown in our reach and the people we are able to touch. We're working with homeless vets. We are working with soldiers who are still in combat and we are going to make an announcement soon on a project that we're working with Vanderbilt and the VA that involves cancer research. Returning veterans from post 9/11 are having difficulties with cancer and their breathing from air they breathed in the Middle East."

"I would just encourage everybody to support our veterans and understand what they've done and the sacrifices they've made for us," Daniels says. "The need is great. There are a lot of organizations like ours and other good organizations that recognize the street level need."