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Country star Robert Mizzell speaks of his experience in US Army after turbulent childhood

Mizzell was discharged from the army on medical grounds after collapsing several times

Robert Mizzell

Eddie Rowley

COUNTRY music star Robert Mizzell has told of his experiences in the American army for the first time - and how he was discharged on medical grounds just as he was about to be sent to the Gulf War at the age of 20.

In our new Sunday World podcast, My Country Life, the singer says his army experience helped to shape his life after a turbulent childhood spent between his family home in Shreveport, Louisiana, and foster care with a couple he calls Mama and Papa Courtney.

Father-of-three Robert (50), who now lives in Co Westmeath, says: "I left the army on medical grounds, but my unit went. I was actually ready to be deployed. I collapsed three or four times."

Robert Mizzell and Adele at their wedding

The blackouts were due to syncopal migraine syndrome. He says: "I was an MP (military police) and we were to be in charge of escorting prisoners from different POW camps. Because of my condition I was given a medical discharge."

Looking back on his time in the army, Robert admits he struggled with the discipline and locked horns with his drill instructor Sgt Barnes.

"Sgt Barnes could do push-ups all day long. He was super strong, but he was a real hardass and I took it personally at the beginning. I sort of rebelled against him and I was nearly going to fight him. Maybe it was because of my upbringing. I was defensive, but I got through my training.

"When I graduated I was talking to drill Sgt Barnes and he said to me, 'you found that tough at times, Robert.' I said I did. He said, 'well, fair play to you, you stuck it out!' Lots of guys came and went during the time I was there.

"Sgt Barnes said, 'if you leave tomorrow you are going to take this experience with you for the rest of your life.' And he was right.

"I always say that, if I had my way, when Leo [his young son] gets to an age if he can go to America and join the army I would encourage it because it teaches young people so many different things.

Robert Mizzell in the army

"We teach our kids academically, but there's no other place that I know of that they can get the regimental discipline that every young man and young woman needs. Along with Mama Courtney [his foster mother], that was another thing that saved my life." Shortly after leaving the army, Robert moved to Ireland after falling in love with an Irish woman he met in America. "I always say now, and people laugh at me, but at that time if someone had said, 'open up a map and point out Ireland,' I wouldn't have been able to find it."

The couple later married and had a daughter, but Robert stayed on in Ireland where he ultimately became one of our biggest country performers. "I wanted to become a cop in America and that was my main ambition," he says.

"I always wanted to be a cop and I left that behind me. I do regret that in one sense. I still watch cop programmes to pacify myself because I'd loved to have been a cop. But then again I'm not sorry because look at the journey I've had now."

Listen to our podcast, My Country Life with Eddie Rowley, on or wherever you get your podcasts.

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