Petty Officer 2nd Class Christina Nichols, a native of Redmond, recently participated in the Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) exercise with 18 other nations.
“Being out to sea with other nations is interesting,” Nichols said in a press release. “It’s cool to watch how each ship interacts with us during the exercise.”
BALTOPS 2019 ran from June 8-21 and 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, the release states. 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.
Nichols is a gunner’s mate aboard the Blue Ridge-class amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney.
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, according to the release. 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 sea-lift command.
Nichols credits success in the Navy to many of the lessons she learned growing up in Redmond.
“I learned to accept and understand different lifestyles and beliefs,” she said in the release. “I learned to work with many different people from different belief systems without any form of discrimination. The Navy upholds the same beliefs that we are a team first, which is congruent with my upbringing.”
BALTOPS 2019 was planned and 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, according to the release.
Commander, C2F, Vice Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis led 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,” Lewis said in the release. “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 began in Kiel, Germany, with a pre-sail conference. At-sea training occurred 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 sailed to Kiel to participate in the Kielerwochen Festival.
Allied nations with ships and forces participating in BALTOPS 2019 included 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 also participated in the exercise.
Serving in the Navy means Nichols is part of a world that is taking on new importance in the United States’ focus on rebuilding military readiness, strengthening alliances and reforming business practices in support of the National Defense Strategy, the release states.
A key element of the Navy the nation needs is tied to the fact that the United States is a maritime nation, and that the nation’s prosperity is tied to the ability to operate freely on the world’s oceans, according to the release. 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,” Richard V. Spencer, Navy secretary, said in the release. “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, according to the release, Nichols is most proud of receiving a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for doing very well with an inspection by the Afloat Training Group.
She said in the release that the command knocked it out of the park.
“Sometimes, small divisions like ours can get overlooked,” Nichols said in the release. “It’s nice to be recognized for keeping the ship safe.”
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Nichols and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes contributing to the Navy the nation needs.
“Serving in the Navy means that I get to help others both on the ship and around the world,” said Nichols. in the release “Our presence provides peace and support when necessary.”