LOUISVILLE -- The Kentucky Derby has been run 139 times, most recently on May 4, when cold, rainy conditions failed to dampen enthusiasm among the Guard members helping keep the event safe.
According to Kentucky's military history, the National Guard has been assisting with the event since 1936. Many years have gone into the coordination and partnerships with local authorities that have protected the "Run for the Roses" as the signature event in the Commonwealth.
The goal of providing a safe and secure weekend at Churchill Downs has always been the focus of the Kentucky National Guard along with agencies such as the Louisville Metro Police, the Jefferson County Sherriff's Office and Kentucky State Police to name a few. The basics of this effort remain the same, but sometimes the manner in which that effort is enacted must be adapted to the world we live in.
"We certainly have a more heightened sense of security," said 2nd Lt. Corey Rich of the 617th Military Police Company and officer in charge of security and traffic for National Guard personnel.
"We continue to support local law enforcement with traffic and security details around the track, but this is the first year we have a wanding detail at the gates," Rich said of the Guard's participation. "We're double and triple checking everything, making sure everyone is good to go that comes through the gates."
At the two largest gates of Churchill Downs, Guard members took their usual stance in being the first line of security encountered by fans. Several Soldiers at each gate were issued metal-detecting wands as an added measure of inspecting individuals. The gates require an attention to detail, but also a friendly patience in greeting the estimated 150,000 spectators entering the track.
"Attendees are a little bothered by the wands, but more thankful that we are taking their security more seriously," said Sgt. 1st Class Mark Meunier, noncommissioned officer in charge of security from the 223rd Military Police Company of the upgraded security. "The majority of people are appreciative of our presence, thanking us for what we do."
Lt. Carolyn Nunn, a 20-year veteran with the Louisville Metro Police Department, complimented the Guard members for their interaction and persistence.
"We've worked in partnership with the National Guard for Derby weekend, and there's been great teamwork," she said. "And without them, honestly we would still be working yesterday's traffic today. It's been awesome, they are all great to work with. They've been troupers out there standing and working in the rain with us, so it's a good experience for everybody."
"Any time you are in any military or law enforcement branch, our partnerships are thick and we have been working in unison for the past 10 years together," she said.
Perspectives of the Kentucky Derby varied depending on the location of the roughly 250 Soldiers and Airmen on duty. From the gates, down the backstretch and the streets surrounding Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Guard demonstrated its fidelity to Louisville and the Commonwealth.
Pvt. Shalah Barnes with the 940th Military Police Company worked her first Derby, her second assignment. Only two months removed from training, Barnes is still learning the ropes of being a Soldier and an MP, and getting to experience the Derby from the backside, where the horses enter the track, has given her a unique perspective on the day and the people that are involved.
"Being from Kentucky and being a part of the biggest event in our state as well as the country is really cool and exciting," she said. "This gives me an opportunity to understand how to better deal with the public. It's muddy, but it's exciting."
On the opposite side of the track, for all to see, including the television cameras, Soldiers and Airmen traded their camouflage for dress uniforms to perform the duties of a more formal security.
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ray Dawson was working his fourth Derby and said his detail is all about being professional in adverse conditions. Guard members secured the winner's circle and the Kentucky Derby trophy at the center of attention in a more refined presence, even in the wet and chilly conditions.
"We are representing all the Soldiers and Airmen out there on the roadblocks and security details," Dawson said. "We get the opportunity to stand in front of the crowd at the biggest spectacle in racing, in the world, and we are representing the Kentucky National Guard."
Despite the rain that soaked poncho-covered spectators and Guard members alike, the 139th Kentucky Derby was another successful day for Louisville and for Kentucky.
Local authorities said the event went off with no major incidents. Kentucky Guard members remained on their security and traffic details well after the last race had concluded and the grandstands and infield emptied.
The Kentucky Guard now begins the year-long preparation for the 140th running in 2014.
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