RAPID CITY, S.D. -- South Dakota Army National Guard Soldiers with the 881st Troop Command and Company C, 1st Battalion, 189th Aviation Regiment participated in a collective training exercise throughout the Black Hills, April 5-6, to increase their combat readiness.

Also known as Operation Thunder, the training event allowed the units to work together to practice medical evacuation procedures and response times involving realistic combat scenarios.

"When you leave your home station and deploy to a combat zone, you never know what you're going to see," said Maj. Jon Murphy, executive officer for the 881st.

The Rapid City-based 1-189th Soldiers, an aerial medevac unit which operates HH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, were prepped and prepared to execute missions non-stop for 36-hours, operating out of two forward operating bases at Fort Meade and Custer.

For the Sturgis-based 881st, the battalion headquarters for the 1-189th, the exercise was about finding ways to create and integrate all their Soldiers into the training and stress them at every level throughout the units in realistic combat operations.

"We wanted to challenge them," said Murphy. "We wanted to give them different situations that will provide a way to develop, to adapt and overcome challenges."

The unit responded to a variety of medevac requests throughout the Black Hills region and arrived upon scenes involving wounded Soldiers from vehicle-borne explosive devices, wounded civilians or picking up high-value targets.

The range of missions or scenarios created by the 881st staff for the 1-189th Soldiers was a key objective for the exercise.

"My overall goal is to create a battalion training event where we get all subordinate units involved," said Lt. Col. Scott Linquist, 881st commander. "It helps our staff realize what the mission and capabilities of our subordinate units are."

"This is an opportunity for us to be able to help the units that we support and maximize that skill set by providing the training they need to be successful," said Murphy.

Some of the 881st Soldiers where once members of the 1-189th, which gives them the insight to create a realistic combat training.

"One aspect of the tactical side of the mission is how they integrate with ground forces, and also be able to fly within the airspace of a combat theatre and some challenges they may see in those scenarios," said Murphy.

Murphy said this event is just the first phase for the battalion and its subordinate units, and it will continue to grow throughout the year and into the following year.

The training event may have come at a perfect time for the 1-189th, as the unit is preparing for a yearlong deployment to Kuwait this fall.

"Our Soldiers need to get into a tactical mindset," said Capt. Brittany Pearson, 2nd Platoon team leader, Company C, 1-189th. "If we go anywhere outside of the United States, where we are in a tactical environment, we will need to be able to think quick on our feet and react to any situation, as well as be able to save lives."