Kentucky Guard helps secure safe, rainy Derby

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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Soldiers of the 198th Military Police Battalion guard a gate along the backstretch of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., May 4, 2013. Roughly 250 Soldiers and Airmen provided security inside and outside the track during Derby weekend. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Kentucky Derby has been run 138 times. 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.

That teamwork was no different for the 139th running of the race, May 4, 2013 as Kentucky relived its annual great two minutes.

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Spc. Ashley Minix of the 198th Military Police Co. uses a metal-detecting wand to search a spectator at the front gate of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., May 5, 2013. It was the first year the Kentucky Guard used the wands as part of the security they provide at the Kentucky Derby. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

To see more photos from the Derby, click here.

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, Guardsmen took their usual stance in being the first line of security fans encounter. 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 thousand spectators entering the track.

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Pfc. Donald Pollick with the 617th Military Police Co. directs traffic outside Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., May 4, 2013. Guardsmen provided security and traffic details in support of local law enforcement during Derby weekend. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

“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 Co. 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 Guardsmen 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 troopers out there standing and working in the rain with us, so it’s a good experience for everybody.”

“Anytime you are in any military or law enforcement branch, our partnerships are thick and we have been working in unison for past 10 years together.”

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Sgt. Christopher King and Pfc. Heath Good, both of the 198th Military Police Battalion assist Kentucky Derby Museum Curator, Chris Goodlett in placing the trophies in the winner’s circle of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., May 4, 2013. King and Good were two of five Soldiers chosen for the elite detail that guards the trophies from the clubhouse to the winner’s circle. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

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 in the streets surrounding Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Guard demonstrated it’s fidelity to Louisville and the Commonwealth.

Pvt. Shalah Barnes with the 940th Military Police Co. worked her first Derby, her second assignment.  Only two months removed from training, Barnes was still learning the ropes of being a Soldier and a MP, and getting to experience the Derby from the backside, where the horses enter the track gave 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 had traded their camouflage for dress uniforms to perform the duties of a more formal security. Chief Master Sgt. Ray Dawson, 123rd Airlift Wing, was working his fourth Derby and said his detail was all about being professional in adverse conditions. Guardsmen 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.

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Spc. Ryan Hayes of the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade maintains his position roping off the winner’s circle of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., May 4, 2013. Several Soldiers and AIrmen provided the security detail for the winner’s circle to keep fans and the media separated from the Kentucky Derby trophy presentation. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

“We are representing all the Soldiers and Airmen out there on the roadblocks and security details,” said Dawson. “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 Guardsmen 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 Guardsmen 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.