NEWS | May 2, 2021

Guardsmen support Derby in reduced capacity

By Spc. Harrison Moore, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs

Louisville's historic Churchill Downs hosted the 147th Kentucky Derby, May 1, 2021, but for the Kentucky National Guard, this year's support and augmentation of local law enforcement were certainly different due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Overall, the mission for the Guard is to provide support to civil authorities for what is a huge event that has worldwide visibility,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Starke, commander of the 75th Troop Command. “The Derby showcases not only the city of Louisville but the whole Commonwealth of Kentucky. It is awesome watching so many different agencies working together.”

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The Kentucky Guard augmented the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) and Churchill Downs security to ensure the safety of Derby fans and race competitors throughout the day.

Typically, a staggering 150,000 visitors attend the Derby. But this year, the number came in at approximately 52,000. Decreased attendance also lessened the need for the Guard’s assistance.

“Obviously, our Derby footprint is reduced this year. So when you're talking about the numbers that we're providing, it is a smaller number because the attendance is significantly lower due to COVID-19. But, there's still a mission, and we are always ready,” said Starke.

Nearly 100 Soldiers and Airmen supported the events of Derby weekend, with the majority coming from the 75th. According to Starke, soldiers assisted with security, traffic augmentation, and Winners’ Circle and Derby trophy details.

“We are here to guard the trophy in the Winner's Circle," said Pfc. Jose Pena, from the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade. "You know, overall, I think it's also to show support and professionalism throughout the organization. I’m grateful to be here and excited to be able to represent my unit and gain this new experience.”

The Soldiers for the Derby trophy detail began guarding the prized trophies early in the morning and moved the awards to different locations during the day for photo opportunities. Eventually, they carried the trophies to the Winner’s Circle, where Gov. Andy Beshear presented them to the winning horse owner, trainer, and jockey.

“When we raised our hands, we vowed to protect and serve the commonwealth and the country. At the Derby, we have a clear mission and purpose to be in the middle of the community and the people that we serve, and it is overall a great experience,” said Sgt. Cody Redmond, who worked alongside LMPD officers at the track.

For nearly 90 years, the Guard has strengthened its relationship with the commonwealth by supporting this annual event. This support has built a strong bond with the Derby community, a feeling even shared by younger Soldiers experiencing it for the first time.

“I have a good sense of pride, and I feel like of all the details I could possibly get assigned, this might be one of the most rewarding because you actually get to interact with the public. I think for a lot of people, it's the only exposure they ever get to the military. So, it's a great thing to be here at the Derby,” said Spc. Paul Shultz.

For everyone who has been to the Derby before, this year was certainly smaller in the number of people. However, the moment the horses began running brought the same feelings it has in years past – magical.

“Our Soldiers are really excited to come out here and help out. They're looking for opportunities to do something different and to get to engage their community. So, we're just super proud to have them all out here. It's always an honor when we get to do something like this and support civil authorities,” said Starke.