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By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Matthew Fink
Royal Netherlands Navy Cmdr. Peter Baars is the mine countermeasures (MCM) lead for NATO Commander Task Group 162.40, which is currently participating in exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS 23). The following is an excerpt of a conversation in which he reflects on his 35-year naval career and his experience working with NATO Ally and Partner nations. This story has been edited to improve readability and context.
“As a child, I wanted to see the world. My father was a sailor. I decided to go to a college for seafarers and joined the merchant navy. Later, I thought it was better to join the navy because at sea you can do exciting things instead of going from A to B, so I joined the Royal Netherlands Navy in 1988. Usually if you join the Dutch navy from the merchant navy, you go into the mine countermeasures service. I liked it: small ships, small crews, and the teamwork was especially good. I also served on frigates for 5 or 6 years. Then, I came back to the MCM services and worked with the Belgian Navy because the Netherlands and Belgium work very close together in MCM.
In 2006, I became the commanding officer of the HNLMS Urk (M861), one of the minehunters from our navy. I think being the CO of a ship is very special and has been a highlight of my career, especially the first time. You go on board, there is nobody on top of you, and you alone are responsible for the ship and for a crew of almost 40 people. You can’t look up to a more experienced guy. But I loved it very much, so when they asked me to be a CO for the second time, I immediately said yes. I was the commanding officer of a hydrographic survey vessel, the HNLMS Luymes (A803).
Now I am the MCM lead of NATO Commander Task Group 162.40, which is a very honorable position for a Dutch guy, being in a big staff like this. I am in a similar situation as before because I am the CO, more or less, of several ships together. Except I control the COs, not the ships. This has been the best part of my career, I think.
This is my fourth BALTOPS overall and my second BALTOPS as part of the CTG 162.40 staff. I love working with other nations. NATO is a very special organization because it brings countries together. When you are in a group of NATO ships, you are together with different nations, different cultures, and despite that you can work very well together. You learn from each other. If you go on a German ship, then you see how they fight fires, and you say, “okay, that’s the smart thing to do. We can do that, too.” And they learn from us. It is very lovely.
What we are doing in BALTOPS is important because it shows the presence of NATO, to show that we can cooperate together. I think we make a difference. Everyone in NATO countries can feel safe going to work, shopping, and the economies will stay healthy, all because NATO is strong. Nobody will want to fight NATO, and that is a good thing.”