"Kentucky Thunder" Over Louisville

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Spc. Michael Atcher and Spc. Nathaniel Nichols, 138th Fires Brigade, stand ready at their M101A1, 105mm Light Towed Howitzer.

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Steve Tressler, 138th Fires Brigade Public Affairs NCOIC

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Kentucky Guardsman Master Sgt. Richard Smith loves his job as an artillery “redleg” with the 138th Fires Brigade.

“I joined the artillery because I liked to see things blow-up” said Smith.

The 138th’s nickname is “Kentucky Thunder,” and it’s been blowing things up for a long time.  So it was only fitting that the 138th supported the 22nd Annual Thunder Over Louisville, a part of the official opening ceremonies to begin the Kentucky Derby Festival.

“I’ve been doing this so long I can’t even remember the first time,” said Smith.

The Soldier connection to Thunder goes even further.   It turns out that Wayne Hettinger, founder of Thunder over Louisville is a former Army man himself.

A former Army man, Wayne Hettinger was all smiles just seconds before the start of the fireworks show he started more than two decades ago.

“I was so excited that the Army was a going to be a part of this as they have for so many years,” said Hettinger said.  “This started as just a little fireworks show in 1990 and has really blown-up.”

“Pun intended” he added.

Soldiers from the 138th Fires Brigade stand ready on the 2nd street bridge to fire the first volley of rounds to begin the 22nd annual Thunder Over Louisville fireworks show.

This year’s Thunder started an hour later than scheduled due to heavy winds and dark clouds, not to mention a nasty spitting rain that seemed to never quite go away.

Weather wasn’t a factor for the Guard Soldiers on the second street bridge, however.  Staff Sgt. JC Parsons, readiness NCO for the 138th, got his crew of 10 soldiers ready to fire the 105mm blank cartridges out of the M101A1 guns, marking the official opening of the Derby Festival.

“I’ve been a part of this for a while and I still get a buzz from being this close to it all,” said Parsons. “I’m fifty feet away here on the bridge … it’s just wild.”

Staff Sgt. Michael Polston couldn’t agree more.  “It’s crazy to be this close, but it’s a lot of fun though!”

No doubt. It’s like Smith said, “You get to watch things blow-up.”

And for a “redleg” nothing is more natural or for that matter, more fun.

Spc. Nathaniel Nichols and Cadet Denis Babiyev prepare to launch some “Kentucky Thunder” at this year's Thunder Over Louisville fireworks show.

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