Unique Derby Day for Kentucky Guardsmen

Churchill Downs sits almost completely empty during the running of the 146th Kentucky Derby, but the Kentucky National Guard was still on hand to provide security inside and outside the building Sept. 5, 2020. (U.S. Army National guard photo by Spc. Brett Hornback)

By Spc. Brett Hornback, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky National Guardsmen and Louisville Metro Police Department officers partnered to help keep the world-renowned tradition of the Kentucky Derby alive Sep. 5.  

Guardsmen from the 198th Military Police Battalion assisted local law enforcement in pulling security in and around Churchill Downs.

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The 146th Kentucky Derby was not a typical Derby. In an effort to mitigate COVID-19, only the race personnel, select television broadcasters, and owners and riders of horses participating in the Derby, along with their families, were allowed to attend this year’s Derby. The small attendance made for a nearly empty Churchill Downs.

Military Policemen with the 198th Military Police Battalion work alongside Louisville Metro Police Department outside Churchill Downs in Louisville while protesters were marching outside prior the Kentucky Derby Sept. 5, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Crane)

In previous years, the duties of guardsmen assisting with the Derby have entailed traffic coordination, trophy security detail, and ground security. This year’s Derby conditions left guardsmen with a slightly different role.

Due to various protests in Louisville that were concurrent with the Derby, many guardsmen were posted outside the walls of Churchill Downs, to assist in security of the entire perimeter. The diligence of the guardsmen and local law enforcement officers ensured the constitutional rights of those inside and outside of the Derby were protected.

According to Sgt. Lashawnte Smith with the 198th MP Battalion, many interactions between the Soldiers and people passing by Churchill Downs were positive. In one occurrence, Smith explained that one Soldier gave his flag patch to a local youth and left him with words of encouragement. 

“There’s a lot of new Soldiers and I think for them, it’s a good start,” said Smith. “Today was a good example of what they should be doing as Soldiers, as far as learning how to interact with the people. So I think it’s a positive situation.”

Guardsmen from Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing served as trophy security detail during the event. Air Force Master Sgt. Charles Wilding with the 123rd Logistics Readiness Squadron was among those in the detail. According to Wilding, this year’s derby was a proud moment for all military personnel serving.

Airmen with the 123rd Airlift Wing stand guard in the winner’s circle keeping watch over the trophies that will be awarded to the winner of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville Sept. 5, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Brett Hornback)

Inside the walls of Churchill Downs, the Derby was no less celebrated than in previous years. The event was broadcast globally so that people across the world could partake in the excitement of the long anticipated race. 

“I’ve known about this my whole life and been out here a couple times in the stands but never on this side of it though, this is far more rewarding,” said Wilding.

For many, the Derby can be recalled as a long history of celebration. With the help of Kentucky Service members, the Derby was able to provide a day of excitement and even a sense of normalcy in the midst of unusual circumstances.

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