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Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, I am Vice Admiral Thomas Ishee, commander, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO and commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet.
I am honored to welcome you to the closing ceremonies of the 52nd iteration of the Baltic Operations exercise, known as BALTOPS 23. I extend my thanks to the German Navy and German people for the warm welcome and for hosting our post sail events which include debriefs and celebrations of our accomplishments as a team.
It is an honor to be here this week, standing side by side with Vice Admiral Jan Kaack my very good friend and to also participate in some of this year’s commemoration of the German Navy’s 175th anniversary. It is a momentous occasion to honor your naval heritage.
As you look around the piers of Kiel Naval Base over the coming days and see the participating ships, Sailors and Marines who took part in BALTOPS 23: Their presence, serves as an indication of commitment to the collective defense capability across the NATO Alliance with our valued NATO partner, Sweden.
The decision each of the 20 nations made to ensure that BALTOPS delivered credible results in building our collective maritime defense capability is proof of the strength and cohesion of our Alliance.
Also serving as testament to the strength of the Alliance is Finland’s participation as a NATO Ally. Though they have participated previously, Alliance membership raises the bar in information sharing and collective defense capability.
To give you an idea of the scope of BALTOPS, participants dedicated over 15,000 hours of focused planning efforts to deliver a realistic and relevant exercise. And these hours do not include the staggering effort exerted 24/7 for the past two weeks, approximately 6,000 people multiplied by 24 hours by 12 days, or about 2 million man-hours. The magnitude is truly staggering.
So why is BALTOPS important? We grow as a team by operating as a team. Through the unclassified planning process and exercise execution we learn to trust each other: But the real beauty of BALTOPS, and core of interoperability, lies in the last two weeks of intense combined operations; at-sea, on land, and in the air. We tried new ideas, we scrimmaged, and tested our defensive game plans. Exercises like BALTOPS build our collective warfighting advantage over those who threaten our shared values.
Put simply, BALTOPS makes us stronger as a team which helps deter aggression against the Alliance. BALTOPS challenged our assumptions, validated strengths and weaknesses, so that if called to defend an inch of NATO territory, we know how to rely on each other and ultimately, how to operate as a team. Exercise participants accomplished lofty training goals, including robust personnel recovery and medical response scenarios, multi-domain combined operations, amphibious landings, and protection of vital sea lines of communication, which we have all seen are so critically important to prosperity in today’s global economy.
Today, 20 nations, 50 ships, 45 aircraft, and 6,000 personnel can celebrate their accomplishments. Every one of these nations recognize the importance of ‘freedom of the seas’ and the vital role the Baltic Sea plays in European prosperity.
The fact BALTOPS happens every year, tells you something. Consistency and persistency send a strong message of our collective commitment to security and stability in Europe.
In past iterations, we spoke of “meeting the challenges of tomorrow.” Those challenges are upon us —here and now. We plan together, we rehearse together, and we operate together. After witnessing the accomplishments of all who participated in BALTOPS, it gives me confidence that the NATO Alliance is ready. Ready to meet any challenge before us, and, if called upon, ready to defend.
Bottom line, BALTOPS remains the recurring answer to the divisive tensions that put security and stability at risk in the Baltic region. Thank you.
At this time, I will turn over the podium to Germany’s Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Kaack.
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