KIEL, Germany -- Forces participating in Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2014, including the U.S. 6th Fleet command and control ship, USS Mount Whitney (LCC20), arrived in Kiel, Germany, June 20 after the successful completion of BALTOPS 2014.
"Coming together for BALTOPS was like climbing a mountain, we have come to the top and planted the BALTOPS flag," said Brig. Gen. Ola Truedsson, BALTOPS deputy commander, speaking to the task force staff just prior to pulling into port.
BALTOPS is an annual, multinational exercise to enhance maritime capabilities, interoperability and support regional stability. This year's BALTOPS, the 42nd since 1971's inaugural exercise, saw the participation of naval forces from 14 countries including Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and NATO.
"What I can remember of previous exercises is that it was never as big and as impressive as it is now," said Royal Netherlands Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Vandergeest, current operations planner for BALTOPS 2014.
Vandergeest would know, as this is marked the fourth time he has participated in the exercise. "Working in an exercise with so many ships from different nations - I wrote to my wife the other day and told her, 'you know this is probably my professional highlight'," said Vandergeest.
Planning the largest naval exercise in the Baltic region began in September of last year, leading up to the official kick off in Karlskrona, Sweden; where, following a face-to-face pre mission brief, participating navies set sail for nearly two weeks of interoperability training.
Serialized exercise evolutions culminated with the final tactical exercise during which the group divided into opposing forces to test collaborative responses in key areas such as command and control, tactical maneuvering, and rules of engagement.
"It was a busy two weeks. We conducted practice boardings of cooperative merchant shipping with teams from 4 nations. We exercised cooperative air defense against, and with, land based tactical aircraft from the air forces of 3 nations. We came together in coordinated anti-submarine warfare with U.S. and partner ships, submarines, helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft. We conducted a mine detonation demonstration to drive home the importance of mine warfare. Finally, we executed two days of tactical integration in a fictional scenario," said Commander of BALTOPS 2014 Rear Adm. Rick Snyder.
Vice Adm. Phil Davidson, 6th fleet commander, called BALTOPS 2014 a complete success and stressed the importance of the annual exercise.
"This year's exercise was dynamic and challenging, including a full spectrum of operations - and it was designed to ensure that, as allies and partners, we are prepared to respond where it matters, when it matters. And it matters here in the Baltic," said Davidson.
Although the at sea portion of the exercise concluded with the force's arrival in Kiel, exercise participants will convene for a Post-Sail conference upon arrival. This final event provides an opportunity for planners and participants to collect feedback that will ensure continued success of the largest, multinational naval exercise in the Baltic region.