Churchill Downs honors military survivors

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Story by David Altom, Deputy Chief of Public Affairs, Kentucky National Guard

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Survivors Day at Churchill Downs was filled with excitement for a special group of military families. Whistlin' Jean won the competition of the day, "A Race for Survivors of Our Fallen Military Heroes." (Photo courtesy Churchill Downs)

LOUISVILLE, Ky.  (May 5, 2011) – While Churchill Downs is obviously famous as the home of the Kentucky Derby, it’s a little known fact that this is also a place of compassion, as seen during last fall’s Survivor’s Day at Churchill Downs.

Churchill Downs officials have worked with the military since at least the early 1930s when Kentucky National Guard troops helped civil authorities with crowds during the derby.  Likewise, the iconic twin spires have been the site of several military ceremonies.

“The folks at Churchill Downs have always taken care of us during our Soldier and Airmen of the Year awards,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Mark Grant.  “They’ve been great supporters of our troops and good friends of the Guard.”

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Retired Chief Master Sgt. Mark Grant coordinated the Survivors Day at Churchill Downs. "They pulled out all the stops to help us," he said. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora, Kentucky Air National Guard)

Grant – a coordinator with Survivor Outreach Services, which works with the families of service members who’ve lost a loved one in time of war – came up with the idea of doing something with military families at Churchill Downs.  He contacted Jody Mumley, who’d been instrumental in setting up the Guard awards events.

“Jody bent over backwards to set this up,” said Grant.  “It was right after the Breeders’ Cup, but she didn’t hesitate.  She made us an offer that was absolutely phenomenal.”

With little more than a week’s notice more than 100 family members, survivors of Army troops from the active duty and National Guard, were enjoying VIP privileges at Churchill Downs.

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Army families enjoy a grand view of the track during the first ever Survivors Day at Churchill Downs. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora, Kentucky Air National Guard)

“The attendance was amazing,” said Grant.  “We had families the Kentucky Army National Guard, Fort Campbell and Fort Knox, as well as folks from Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia.”

The highlight of the event was a special race, christened “A Race for Survivors of Our Fallen Military Heroes.”

Whistlin’ Jean won, in case anyone is keeping score.

Tomorrow: A familiar face drops by for a visit with the Army survivors!

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