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Pre-Derby Festival Features 'America Supports You,' Air Show, Fireworks

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

LOUISVILLE, Ky., April 22, 2006 – Throughout the day here, a steady stream of visitors stopped by the "America Supports You" booth to write messages of support on post cards for U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Visitors to the "America Supports You" booth at the annual "Thunder Over Louisville" festival April 22 write messages of support for servicemembers on post cards that will be sent to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Photo by John D. Banusiewicz

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America Supports You is a Defense Department program that spotlights what American people and the corporate sector do to show their appreciation for the nation's men and women in uniform.

The booth was among others in a venue of an estimated 800,000 people who flocked to the banks of the Ohio River here today to celebrate "Thunder Over Louisville," a weekend of activity that has kicked off the annual Kentucky Derby Festival for the last 17 years.

The Navy's Blue Angels F-18 aerial demonstration squadron performed for an appreciative, sun-drenched crowd, with the precision aviators showing off their combat flying skills against the background of a brilliantly blue sky.

Besides the Blue Angels, Thunder Over Louisville features demonstrations or flyovers by a wide variety of military and vintage aircraft. The roar of the aircraft engines and what's billed as the world's largest annual fireworks display to culminate the day's activities are what give the festival its name.

Louisville became an official America Supports You partner yesterday. Servicemembers were able to attend a Louisville Bats baseball game last night as guests of the city. The Bats are the top minor league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.

Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, was a designated "Thundernator," with the honor of starting tonight's fireworks display. Barber heads DoD's America Supports You program.

Messages signed at the booth will go through the "A Million Thanks" effort headed by 16-year-old America Supports You member Shauna Fleming of Orange, Calif. She has long since passed her initial goal of collecting a million messages of appreciation for servicemembers. She's now gunning for 2.6 million, to represent a message of thanks for each man and woman serving in the nation's active duty and reserve component forces.

No matter what their views about the terror war, booth visitors said they wanted the troops to know they're behind them all the way. Many said they know someone who has served or is serving on one of the fronts in the global war on terror.

One visitor, though, might well have been the most grateful. "Thank you for Iraq freedom," is all he wrote -- first in English, and then in Arabic.

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Louisville Joins America Supports You on Eve of Festival

Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn estimated 500,000 people gather on the banks of the Ohio River for "Thunder Over Louisville," an annual celebration to kick off Kentucky Derby Festival activities in Louisville, Ky. The event featured the Navy's Blue Angels and demonstrations and flyovers by a wide range of military and vintage aircraft. Louisville became a formal partner in the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program April 21. Photo by John D. Banusiewicz  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageTwo A/F-18 Hornets of the Navy's Blue Angels zoom past the Louisville, Ky., skyline April 22, practicing for their performance in the "Thunder Over Louisville" air show. The Blue Angels and a host of other military aircraft performed for more than 500,000 people attending the annual festival on the banks of the Ohio River. Louisville became a partner in the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program April 21, continuing a long tradition of support for the nation's servicemembers. Photo by John D. Banusiewicz  
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