Task Force Thunder returns to Louisville to support local law enforcement

Kentucky Guard Soldiers and Airmen supported LMPD after activation for state active duty. They protected critical infrastructure and the lives of the public in various locations throughout the city of Louisville, Ky., Sept. 26, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Crane)

Story by Capt. Michael Reinersman; photos by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Crane and Spc. Jesse Elbouab, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—The year 2020 continues to be one to remember as the Kentucky National Guard completed another mission to support the commonwealth.

For the second time this year, Governor Andy Beshear asked Guardsmen to assist the Louisville Metro Police Department.

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From Sept. 23-28, the Kentucky Guard formed a National Guard Response Force. Their mission was to augment LMPD and protect critical infrastructure sites, provide an official presence of support within the commonwealth, and enhance the safety of citizens in and around Louisville.

Kentucky Guard Soldiers protect critical infrastructure while providing support to civil disturbance throughout Louisville, Ky., Sept. 23, 2020. (U.S Army National Guard by Spc. Jesse Elbouab, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

Guard leadership kept command and control during operations.

“We are here to support the city of Louisville and its citizens and provide public safety,” said Brig. Gen. Hal Lamberton, Kentucky’s Adjutant General. “Our efforts are a tailored response to the ongoing civil disturbance in the city, and at the request of the governor. Let’s not forget we are a part of this community, too.”

Having Soldiers provide security at essential government sites enabled LMPD to do front-line law enforcement, which was critical during the daily protests that were ending in various violent demonstrations.

“Reacting to a civil disturbance is undoubtedly the most difficult job they can ask the Guard to do,” said Brig. Gen. Robert Larkin, Assistant Adjutant General for Kentucky. “We have gained a lot of experience this year while providing support to LMPD.”

The 138th Field Artillery Brigade, with headquarters in Lexington, led Kentucky’s NGRF mission. Supporting units came from 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery in Lexington, 761st Firefighting Team out of Greenville, 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade out of Frankfort, 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade out of Richmond, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry out of Barbourville, and the 198th Military Police Battalion, 75th Troop Command and 123rd Airlift Wing, all out of Louisville.

The Domestic Operations personnel coordinated with LMPD and the governor’s office to identify sites as critical to the city’s infrastructure. Assessing the sites started weeks before the mission.

“We shifted to static site security and transportation support, and that made the role of the Soldiers stronger,” said Col. Andrew Bates, commander of the 138th FAB. “Our enhanced knowledge of the community, mapping capabilities, command, and control lead to a successful team effort.”

Bates, a Louisville resident himself, took command of the 138th just three days before being activated as Task Force Thunder’s commander.

Bates said the success of the task force comes from its supporting units. They integrated from other brigades and provided logistical support to each other.

Local media and other citizens often approached Soldiers and Airmen to inquire about the Guard’s role. Their presence, although misunderstood, made the local populace feel safer in their day-to-day lives.

A Kentucky Army National Guard Soldier with Alpha Battery, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery, stands guard at the intersection 8th and W. Jefferson St. in Louisville, Ky., Sept. 24, 2020. Governor Beshear activated Kentucky Guardsmen to support Louisville Metro Police Department and protect critical infrastructure from potential rioters. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Crane)

Sgt. Clayton Thomas, assigned to the 203rd Forward Support Company, said an employee at the Holiday Inn Express was afraid to come to work until she saw a humvee parked outside.

“Our goal is to make sure we can keep everyone safe,” said Thomas.

Many Airmen and Soldiers, like Thomas, said they were proud to serve their community and keep their fellow citizens safe.

A Louisville native, Pfc. Mckayla Farlee of 203rd FSC, was in a response team watching over the Advocacy Center on 7th and Jefferson Streets. She said, “We understand this is a strange environment, but I have lived in Louisville my entire life, and this is my community I am protecting.”

Many Soldiers from the task force are from Louisville. Having personal knowledge of the area made their role easier.

“This isn’t something we do every day. We’re not here to choose sides,” said Farlee. “I just want everyone to go home safely.”

The governor activated many of the same Guardsmen earlier this year following a similar wave of violence that hit the city.

“From the last time, we grew as a team and became much more comfortable working with law enforcement.” said 2nd. Lt. Michael Haney, a platoon leader in Alpha Battery, 2/138th FA. “Our job is very similar, but we simplified things from what we learned back in June. Many of us went to the same locations every night. This made us feel more organized and much more efficient for this mission.”

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