LOUISVILLE, Ky. - During a historic weekend for horse racing, Kentucky National Guard members from around the state augmented first responders Saturday at Churchill Downs in support of the 145th Kentucky Derby.

Soldiers from the 198th Military Police (MP) Battalion, alongside the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) and Churchill Downs security, ensured the safety of Derby fans and race competitors throughout the day.

More than 150 Guard members contributed their technical and professional expertise in support of the event. The vast majority of Guard members from the 198th MPs worked alongside Louisville Metro Police officers to provide grounds security, traffic control and the official trophy security detail throughout the event. Other units in support of the festivities included Soldiers with the 41st Civil Support Team and Airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing.

The sheer scope of the nation's premier horseracing event requires that local law enforcement be augmented with professionally trained personnel. The support from 198th was warmly welcomed.

"Large scale events are not successful without the help of all our partners in the first responder family," said Officer Lamont Washington of the LMPD. "We at the LMPD rely on the working relationship we have built over the years with the Kentucky National Guard."

This relationship with the Derby community, well over 100 years in the making, serves to strengthen the bond between Guard members and the communities they serve.

"If at any time the LMPD needs us, they know they can call on us and we will provide that support," said Staff Sgt. Trenton Dalton of the 438th MP Company and non-commissioned officer in charge of security at the event. "It's a fun learning experience and a great opportunity to apply our training in a real-world setting.

From any angle inside or outside the track, it wasn't difficult to spot a Guard member operating a gate or intersection.

"Honestly, it's one of the very few times we get to interact with people that doesn't revolve around a major disaster," said Spc. Michael Oxford with the 438th. "It starts on a good note and most of the time it ends on a good note."

The more spectators who fill the grandstands, the greater number of law enforcement personnel necessary. The Derby draws a crowd from around the globe, and with over 150,000 people in attendance, potential dangers loom.

"It's a very eye-opening experience, just the scope of working the Kentucky Derby," said Dalton. "The traffic control guys--we are able to help prevent injury and save lives through traffic control at the intersections."

Many of the Guard members have worked the Derby for many years, but for some, this is a first time experience. For the first-timers, the grandeur and excitement of their home state's greatest treasure made for a day they'll never forget

"It's been an awesome experience," said Spc. Michelle Warner with the 438th. "This is my first time working the Derby, and I was lucky enough to be placed working security at the VIP tent with the celebrities. We get to show off how the Kentucky National Guard operates and how we're here for the community when they need us."

For the Soldiers who come back to work the event year after year, the Kentucky Derby offers something more meaningful than glamorous horses and extraordinary hats. It's an opportunity to stand alongside their local law enforcement, to interact with the public, and to do what they signed up to do--serve their state and their country.

"The human interaction runs really deep for me," said Oxford. "When it comes to the national anthem or the posting of the colors, or playing "My Old Kentucky Home," people want to know why the Kentucky Guard has such deep traditions and why we do things the way we do them. It's very rewarding."