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Sailors of a Dozen Nations Wrap Up Baltic Exercises

By Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2009 – After 11 days of sea trials and more than 250 separate events, a multinational naval exercise in the Baltic region is scheduled to wrap up tomorrow.

The objective for the 12 countries participating in BALTOPS – short for “Baltic Operations” -- is to learn to work together and form new ideas for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, Navy Rear Adm. John Christenson, the mission commander, said yesterday during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable.

“You don’t know what the disaster is going to be, but whatever it is, if you’ve worked together, communicated together and developed confidence in each other, it makes the response a lot easier and a lot more efficient,” he said.

Even though it’s an exercise, the events have significant impact, Christenson said.

“One of the big values here is we’ve been exploding World War II ordnance all week,” he said. “Close to 100,000 mines were seeded in the Baltic Sea in World War II, and the mine countermeasure ships here have done a great job of finding both exercise torpedoes and mines, but also real-world mines.”

Finding the mines isn’t the only example of how the exercise has had a positive effect on mariners. Using knowledge gained from BALTOPS’s annual ship-boarding event, Swedish sailors captured a pirate ship last year off the coast of Somalia, Christenson said.

While there are differences among the collaborating navies and how they handle situations, the exercise allows them to come together and develop problem-solving skills, said Swedish navy Lt. Cmdr. Jorgen Bergman, the Swedish liaison officer aboard the USS Mount Whitney.

“When different navies come together, usually the first couple of days are spent just being able to reach other on various frequencies and communicate, and basic ship handling,” Christenson said. “We are all, in our hearts, sailors, but we do think different ways. But this is the perfect exercise to train together, do things together and develop our skills, to be team workers.”

The 37th annual exercise ends tomorrow in Kiel, Germany, with what Christenson said is the largest gathering of sail vessels in the world.

(Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class William Selby serves in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)

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