Unbridled Coordination: Kentucky Guard supports Louisville’s biggest party

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

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Soldiers assigned to the 223rd Military Police Company and Louisville Metro Police officers man a safety point at Sixth Street and River Road April 18, in support of Thunder security operations. More than 1,200 Law Enforcement Officers and 140 military policemen patrolled the Riverfront to ensure crowd safety. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It literally takes an Army, specifically the Kentucky Army National Guard, to ensure the two-week party in Louisville, aka the Kentucky Derby Festival (KDF), goes off without a hitch.

Whether its traffic enforcement, security patrols, entertaining the crowd with give-aways and obstacles, or starting events with a cannon, the Kentucky Guard plays a huge role in Thunder Over Louisville, the kick-off to Derby Festival. The Soldiers and Airmen operate right alongside the KDF as well as local, state and federal agencies to ensure festival patrons have an explosive time, without incident.

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The Kentucky National Guard’s 223rd Military Police and Louisville Metro Police officers coordinated patrols to keep Thunder-goers safe April 18, in Louisville. More than 1,200 Law Enforcement Officers and 140 military policemen patrolled the Riverfront to ensure crowd safety. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson)

“We are very grateful for what the National Guard provides us,” said Sgt. Phil Russell, Louisville Metro Police commander of media, public relations.

Approximately 250 Kentucky Guardsmen supported the 25th Thunder. The Guard has participated in the annual event in some capacity since its conception in 1990.

“When you are here, and in the uniform, you are an ambassador for the United States military; but especially the Kentucky Guard,” said 1st Sgt. Mike Ochs, 223rd Military Police Company first sergeant.

“It’s good for the crowd to see us, and the public is always wonderful to us,” he said.

Sgt. 1st Class Nick Vinson, a Guard recruiter, has helped coordinate the Kentucky Recruiting and Retention Battalion’s partnership with the KDF since 2008, and has worked everything from the Guard’s rock wall to the command center.

“Thunder emphasizes what the Guard does for Kentucky,” Vinson said. “It’s not only the largest event within this area of the state, but for our recruiters and our community relations personnel; this is the largest single-day event of the year. We impact as many people at Thunder as we do in a week at the State Fair.”

On the bridge, Soldiers assigned to the 138th Field Artillery Brigade know their cannons are not just a staple of Thunder, but something that many viewers look forward to hearing, and feeling. But their own experience is something they said they don’t take for granted.

“It was exciting to be part of Thunder Over Louisville,” said Spc. Tiffany Dirolf, supply specialist, 138th Field Artillery Brigade. “I am normally in a room all the time and today I had one of the best seats in the house.”

Whether patrolling the busy streets or loading the cannons, the Kentucky Army National Guard is always ready to make each Thunder better than the last.

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