LOUISVILLE, Ky. –
Almost 160 thousand spectators were back at Churchill Downs for the running of the 148th Kentucky Derby May 7.
With the fans being back, so was the Kentucky National Guard’s 223rd Military Police Company and the 123rd Airlift Wing.
Soldiers of the 223rd ensured that the return to the first 100% capacity Derby since the COVID-19 pandemic was safe and enjoyable for this year’s attendees.
Roughly 130 Kentucky Army and Air National guardsmen augmented the Louisville Metro Police and Churchill Downs in providing security, directing traffic and crowd control during the "most exciting two minutes in sports."
The 223rd assisted Louisville Metro Police with maintaining over 80 checkpoints in the roads surrounding Churchill Downs, reducing workload on local law enforcement and providing local security with additional skilled personnel. The crowd size and high-profile nature of an event like this one drives the necessity of having additional trained personnel on hand to help local law enforcement maintain safety and security.
“[Working with LMPD] can show the public that regardless of public views on law enforcement, we can still work together. They’re great people to work with,” Said Pfc. Daniel Vincent of the 438th Military Police Company.
Being able to assist in missions like this one of the National Guards specialties. Building relationships with local entities builds a unique bond between the community and the Guard.
“It’s been such a great experience to be out here interacting with the community and creating positive public relations and having a great time,” said Specialist Matthew Paverd of the 223rd Military Police Company.
This is a special event that isn’t lost on the Soldiers asked to work at the Derby. Likened to the Super Bowl, as far as notoriety and television coverage, the stage is very large and exciting for everyone involved.
“The Kentucky National Guard has been helping the police with the Derby for 116 times in a row now. I like the interactions with the crowd – they’re not just passing by, they’ll say ‘thank you for your service,’ and they’ll interact with you, and the relationships get stronger in our unit, with LMPD… and the bond gets strong [with the public] as well,” said Sgt. Dante Altamirano of the 223rd Military Police Company.
National Guard Soldiers weren't just used for security purposes outside the grounds. Guard Soldiers were guarding the Derby trophy, while other Soldiers and Airmen provided a rope detail in the winner’s circle to maintain the media after the race.
This was the 116th time the National Guard has been involved with the Kentucky Derby out of the 148 years Churchill Downs has been hosting the event and the Guard looks forward to being there for Kentucky in the 149th Derby in 2023.