Kentucky Guard supports sixth annual Survivors Day at Races

By Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs 

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Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James (second from right) presents the winning trophy for a race held in honor of fallen U.S. Service members to the winning owner and jockey in the winner’s circle of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 1, 2015. The race was a highlight of the Survivors Day at the Races, and event organized by Survivors Outreach Services. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, Kentucky Adjutant General Edward W. Tonini and senior military officials joined the families of fallen Service members at Churchill Downs for the sixth annual Survivors Day at the Races Nov. 1 in Louisville.

The day was designed to recognize the surviving family members of military service members who have given their lives in defense of our nation since September 11, 2001.  More than 850 family members and guests from Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia attended the event.

“Days like today help all of us move forward,” said James. “I have been inspired today as I’ve met family members today and what you’re doing in the aftermath, you are all moving forward, you’re doing it together. Together with your friends, family and in some cases, with people you’ve never met.”

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Organized by Survivors Outreach Services, the event is one of the largest of its kind in the country recognizing families of each Service branch. Those attendance were treated to a buffet lunch in the historic track’s Millionaires’ Row, live music, activities for children and the best view of the races on the track below.

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Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James speaks with family members at Survivors Day at the Races at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 1, 2015. The event brought more than 850 surviving family members and friends together as part of the Survivors Outreach Services program. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

Highlighting the day was a race named in honor of the Survivors of Fallen Military Heroes. Family members joined the winning jockey and horse in the winner’s circle to present the race trophy.

Lt. Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Vice Chief of the National Guard Bureau paid his second consecutive visit to the event and was thrilled with its growth.

“It’s great to be back here, see a bigger program and see these families getting so much out it,” said Lengyel.  “The most important thing we do is make our units strong, make our families strong and our communities strong and our commitment to these survivors is something we hold dear and will never give up on.”

Humana Government Business Services also helped sponsor the event and joined forces with U.S. Bank and Military Warriors Support Foundation to give away a mortgage-free home to a wounded Soldier.

Orie Mullen, president of Humana Government Business and Dave Lieske with Military Warriors presented Jason McAlister and his wife Lendie with a key to their brand new home in LaGrange, Kentucky.

McAlister served eight years and two deployments with the 10th Mountain Division and was wounded in an IED attack in Afghanistan in 2004. He and Lendie both agreed this has and will change their lives and the future of their family.

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Family members of fallen U.S. Service members watch a race named in their honor at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 1, 2015. The race was a highlight of the Survivors Day at the Races, which brought surviving family members from eight states to the historic racetrack. (Kentucky National Guard photo by Olivia Burton)

“This just leaves me speechless,” she said. “The outpouring of support is simply overwhelming. We are so blessed and fortunate that he’s still here, that he survived all that he went through.”

“And to be here with all these families and their heartache, it’s just an amazing honor. It’s taken our breath away.”

Military Warriors is a 501(c)(3), nonprofit organization that supports wounded Service members and surviving family members. Lieske said they plan to return to next year’s event and give another home away.

Mullen echoed that sentiment by indicating that Humana would like to return as a sponsor next year as well.

“Humana is so humbled to be a part of such an honorable and emotional event,” said Mullen. “A day like this deserves our utmost support, which is why we aim to be here in 2016.”

More than 600 Kentucky military service members have given their lives in the defense of the nation since 9/11. Eighteen Kentucky Guard Soldiers have died in a theater of war in that time, fourteen in Iraq, four in Afghanistan.