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NEWS | June 6, 2022

Chaplains build partnerships during BALTOPS22 exercise

By MC1 Jacob Sippel, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa Public Affairs

For the first time in 51 iterations, exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS22) will feature a chaplain-led portion of the exercise called the Religious and Spiritual Support Interoperability Initiative (RSSII).

Chaplains from eight nations will work together throughout the exercise to share religious and spiritual support strategies, specifically, support during times of crisis.

“Navy chaplains from Allied and partner nations support personnel in both steady state and crisis situations,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Brian Weigelt, the U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa and U.S. Sixth Fleet Force Chaplain. “Life in the maritime domain is challenging, and navy chaplains possess skills in helping navigate those unique challenges on a daily basis.”

BALTOPS 22 is an annual exercise designed to promote mutual understanding, confidence, cooperation and interoperability among forces, national commands, and personnel of participating nations.

The objective of RSSII is to test the capacity of providing chaplain support across national boundaries at sea, while overcoming barriers and limitations within an exercise environment prior to the necessity of support in a real-world scenario.

“In the event of a conflict, we have to be spiritually and psychologically ready to respond,” explained Weigelt. “By exercising our ability to provide chaplain support interchangeably between countries during a potential crisis, we will be able to seamlessly integrate should the need arise.”

Prior to the start of the exercise, the participants conducted training aboard the Blue Ridge-class command-and-control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) June 3 in Stockholm. Twenty-three participants (chaplains, other officers and enlisted support) from Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States participated in the event.

Throughout the rest of the exercise, chaplains will test their ability to provide support during dynamic operations. They will practice personnel transfer between different units and nations, support during medical response scenarios, and their ability to communicate with higher headquarters with respect to personnel needs. Also, focus groups will be held to consider the realities of maritime combat on the psychological and spiritual readiness of Sailors.  

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be working alongside my religious ministries counterparts during BALTOPS,” said Belgian Navy Moral Counselor 1st Class Emmanuel Reynaerts. “We want to be sure that all the navies here will have spiritual support. And if they can’t get it from their own ship, then we should find a way to give them the support they need, even if it’s from another country.”

BALTOPS 22 is the premier maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic Region. The exercise, led by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, and executed by Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, provides a unique training opportunity to strengthen combined response capabilities critical to preserving freedom of navigation and security in the Baltic Sea.

For over 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with our Allies and Partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.

Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility. U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.