SIOUX FALLS, S.D. --
On October 3, 2019, Marine Attack Squadron 231 and the 114th Fighter Wing, South Dakota Air National Guard, started Exercise Banzai Badlands at Joe Foss Field in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The exercise was a three-day, total force readiness exercise for the 114th FW. VMA-231 acted as an opposing force to help provide realistic air-combat scenarios for the 114th FW.
“This exercise went through the full spectrum of our and their capabilities, which boils down to close air support, air-to-ground training, and air-to-air combat training.” Said Marine Maj. Nate Smith, pilot training officer for VMA-231.
The exercise consisted of simulated air-combat, ground strikes and defense against simulated ground attacks. In the air, the 114th FW practiced striking enemy bases and destroying enemy aircraft. While on the ground, personnel practiced protecting against simulated missile, chemical, and ground attacks.
“VMA-231 is here to support the 114th FW’s training,” Said Smith. “This is to help them evaluate readiness for combat and validate previous training.”
VMA-231’s aircraft provided the 114th FW with different aircraft and skillsets to fight against. VMA-231 used simulated surface-to-air missile turrets and missile sites to provide the 114th FW simulated targets. VMA-231 and the 114th FW engaged in simulated air-to-air combat during the 114th FW’s air-to-ground strikes.
Exercise Banzai Badlands enabled the 114th FW to engage in realistic training, solidifying skills and procedures. It also gave VMA-231 the opportunity to exercise many of the unit’s organic capabilities in a high-tempo training environment, including the logistical challenges of moving a squadron from North Carolina to South Dakota, aircraft maintenance in an unfamiliar scenario and Marine pilots working in a new environment.
“Coming to South Dakota allows VMA-231 to exercise all of its logistical functions and being in a new environment brings new challenges,” Smith said. “It also gives a chance to train in the joint environment which is really important.”
The maintainers worked long hours ensuring aircraft were safe and ready for consistent flight missions. The pilots got a chance to fly and simulate fighting against unique opponents and aircraft with unfamiliar capabilities.
“This exercise demonstrated that we are capable of doing our job at a moment’s notice regardless of the conditions,” said Air Force Capt. Taylor Hiester, an F-16 pilot with the 114th FW.
After three days of simulated force-on-force training VMA-231 and the 114th FW worked together in many challenging training missions. In many deployed environments, U.S. forces from different branches, with different procedures will likely be working together on the battlefield. Exercise Banzai Badlands gave both the VMA-231 and the 114th FW a chance to practice working together and interacting to garner a better understanding of each other’s tactics and service-unique skillsets.
“The Air Force and the Marine Corps are never going to war alone,” Hiester said. “Joint-training operations like this allow us to show synergy between our forces and ensure that we can conduct the mission properly.”