Petty Officer 3rd Class Nael Jean-Jacques, a native of Roselle, New Jersey, is participating in the Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) exercise with 18 other nations.
“I’ll be doing mostly watchstanding during BALTOPS,” said Jean-Jacques. “I’m excited to be working with the foreign nations.”
BALTOPS 2019, running June 8-21, includes sea, air and land assets. The multi-national exercise provides a unique training opportunity that fosters cooperative relationships critical to ensuring safety at sea and security on the world’s interconnected oceans.
According to U.S. Navy officials, it is designed to improve training value for participants, enhance flexibility and interoperability, and demonstrate resolve among allied and partner forces in defending the Baltic Sea region.
Jean-Jacques is a logistics specialist aboard the USS Fort McHenry, stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.
“My main responsibilities on the ship are issuing repair parts to my command so that people can keep up with maintenance,” Jean-Jacques said. “I also receive mail for personnel onboard.”
Fort McHenry is a Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship named for Fort McHenry in Baltimore, the 1814 defense of which inspired The Star-Spangled Banner.
Whidbey Island class ships have the largest capacity for landing crafts of any U.S. Navy amphibious platform.
Petty Officer 1st Class Akram Omar, a native of West Orange, New Jersey, is also participating in the exercise, along with Cmdr. Alexander McMahon, a native of Leonia, New Jersey.
“My job is ensuring the Mount Whitney is the premier command and control ship and that it runs efficiently for the seven flag officers participating in the exercise,” McMahon said. “We want to demonstrate our interoperability with our allies and Baltic partner nations and demonstrate our combined capabilities as a naval force to conduct operations.”
Mount Whitney is named for the 14,505-foot peak in the Sierra-Nevada range in California, the highest point in the lower continental United States.
It is the first ship in the U.S. Navy to bear this name. Mount Whitney serves as the Command Ship for Commander, Sixth Fleet/ Commander, Joint Command Lisbon/Commander, Striking Force NATO and has a complement of 150 enlisted personnel, 12 officers and 150 Civilian Mariners from Military Sealift Command.
“I was in the Boy Scouts, part of my church, volunteer fire department, and was very active in sports in my high school. All of those things taught me the value of hard work and teamwork,” McMahon said. “Together as a team we can achieve more.”
“Being a leading petty officer during this deployment and at sea has been very helpful,” said Omar. “I am excited to get through BALTOPS and get home to my new born twins.”
“Growing up in Jersey I learned the importance of being patient,” said Omar.
Jean-Jacques credits his success in the Navy to lessons he learned growing up in Roselle.
“I used to run track in high school; it taught me to be humble and to never give up,” he said.
BALTOPS 2019 was planned and is being led by U.S. 2nd Fleet (C2F), as directed by U.S. Naval Forces Europe. C2F was re-established last summer as a response to the changing security environment, and BALTOPS 2019 marks the first time the renewed fleet will be operating in Europe.
Commander, C2F, Vice Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis, is leading the exercise on behalf of U.S. Naval Forces Europe.
“As you all are aware, U.S. 2nd Fleet will be leading the exercise, but make no mistake, it will be founded on NATO and partner principles,” said Lewis. “Through BALTOPS 2019 and exercises like it, we strengthen our relationships and improve overall coordination and interoperability between allies and partners during both peace and times of conflict.”
The exercise will begin in Kiel, Germany, with the pre-sail conference. At-sea training will occur throughout the Baltic Sea, including events scheduled near Putlos, Germany; Saaremaa Island, Estonia; Riga, Latvia; Klaipeda, Lithuania; and Ravlunda, Sweden. At the end of the exercise, most participating ships will sail to Kiel, Germany, to participate in the Kielerwochen Festival (Kiel Week).
Allied nations with ships and forces participating in BALTOPS 2019 include Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. NATO partner nations Finland and Sweden will also participate in the exercise.
Serving in the Navy means Jean-Jacques is part of a world that is taking on new importance in America’s focus on rebuilding military readiness, strengthening alliances and reforming business practices in support of the National Defense Strategy.
A key element of the Navy the nation needs is tied to the fact that America is a maritime nation, and that the nation’s prosperity is tied to the ability to operate freely on the world’s oceans. More than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water; 80 percent of the world’s population lives close to a coast; and 90 percent of all global trade by volume travels by sea.
“Our priorities center on people, capabilities and processes, and will be achieved by our focus on speed, value, results and partnerships,” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. “Readiness, lethality and modernization are the requirements driving these priorities.”
Though there are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community, and career, Jean-Jacques is most proud of the surface warfare pin he earned in 2017, which he said required “college-level” study.
“It was an honor, it made me happy that I now have a deeper knowledge of the ship,” Jean-Jacques said.
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Jean-Jacques and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes contributing to the Navy the nation needs.
“I’m the first in my family to join the military and follow in the footsteps of my brothers and sisters who died for this country,” Jean-Jacques said. “It makes me proud and is the reason why I serve.”
Military officials say the 47th BALTOPS, which ends Friday, aims to improve teamwork among allies and partners while presenting a united front to Russia, a former participant in the long-running NATO exercise whose military movements in recent years have put the Baltic region’s former Soviet states on edge.
The participating nations brought 50 ships, 40 aircraft and more than 8,500 personnel to the Baltic Sea, but officials said the exercise isn’t meant to escalate tensions.
“We are very aware of the difference between deterrence and provocation, and we’re not interested in provoking anyone,” said Lewis.
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