Derby Day mission requires experienced Soldiers

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Bryan Ploughe, 238th RTI Unit Public Affairs Historian Representative

Video story by Staff Sgt. Rebecca Wood, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – For two minutes each spring the eyes of the world are on the Bluegrass State during a little event called The Kentucky Derby. And right in the middle of all of the energy and excitement Kentucky’s National Guard Soldiers make their presence known.(Kentucky National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Ploughe, 238th RTI Unit Public Affairs Historian Representative)

The earliest mention of the Derby in the records of the Kentucky Adjutant General goes back to April 1936. A total of 36 officers and 600 men were ordered to maintain “…order and prevent rioting due to insufficient police powers in Jefferson County.”

Click here for the history of the Kentucky National Guard’s participation in the Kentucky Derby.

These days only a couple of hundred Guardsmen are required to pull of the mission, along with technology, partnerships with local, state and federal agencies — and a lot of planning.

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Staff Sgt. James Elliott provided guidance and instruction for Soldiers while working security detail along the perimeter of the horse track, during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby. (Kentucky National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Ploughe, 238th RTI Unit Public Affairs Historian Representative)

“We begin planning every year approximately eleven months out,” stated Capt. Travis Riley, 198th Military Police Battalion. Riley served as command post battle captain for security operation during the Derby.

“The key to our success in all this is our NCO corps,” said Riley. “They do all the hard work and they do it with professionalism and enthusiasm.”

Sgt. 1st Class Mark Meunier, NCOIC for perimeter security at Church Hill Downs, echoed Riley’s praise for his non-commissioned officers.

“We look to our experienced NCOs to provide guidance and direction to the less experienced, when it comes to performing their duty,” he said. “After all, they are the driving force of this mission to make things happen.”

In the wake of multiple deployments to two war zones and state active duty during hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms, you might wonder what the troops think of something like “Derby duty.”

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When spectators arrive at Church Hill Downs, they have lots of questions and require some directions. Sgt. James Hagan provides assistance whenever possible so visitors can enjoy their experience at the Kentucky Derby. (Kentucky National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Ploughe, 238th RTI Unit Public Affairs Historian Representative)

“Morale is high,” said Meunier. “You couldn’t ask for a more vigilant or competent group of Soldiers to work with.  They love what they do and they do it well.”

The average attendance for the main event on Saturday was nearly 175,000 spectators, not including the crowds that attend for the running of the Oaks on Friday. With a battalion size element of Soldiers on the ground, working in concert with multiple other agencies, such as Louisville Metro Police, Jefferson County Sheriff’s department and Kentucky State Police and other agencies, officials were prepared for nearly any situation that may happen.

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Far from the madding crowd — As part of the security detail during the Kentucky Derby, Sgt. Chris Reardon stands guard at a gap along the back stretch to keep spectators from entering the track during the race. (Kentucky National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Ploughe, 238th RTI Unit Public Affairs Historian Representative)

Staff Sgt. James Elliott has worked the derby detail for a few years.

“This year ran incredibly smooth,” he said. “With the lessons learned from previous years and experienced Soldiers being at every control point, this mission has evolved into one that the Soldiers can walk away from, with great memories and experience.”

Of all the missions the Kentucky National Guard MPs support throughout the year, the Derby is one of their biggest. With their reputation as the “backbone of the Army” secure, the Kentucky Guard NCO corps became part of history with the running of the 140th “Running of the Roses.”

 

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