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NEWS | June 18, 2024

Dutch, Finnish and U.S. Chaplain integration during BALTOPS24

By USS Mount Whitney Public Affairs

On June 9th, the Dutch amphibious ship Johan De Witt was the setting of a NATO chaplain engagement including chaplains from the Netherlands, Finland, and the United States. Finland’s Chief of Naval Chaplains, Paavo Ranta, and US Navy chaplain, CDR David Duprey, flew aboard the Johan De Witt as part of the Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2024 exercise.

Chaplains Ranta and Duprey both spoke of the benefit of chaplains from two different nations visiting Johan De Witt. “Now that Finland is a member of NATO, our chaplains must understand other cultures in a wider perspective than before,” said Ranta. “We are now part of multicultural alliance! And the best way to learn about other cultures is to live inside another culture. And that is what I have done here. Learning from others and working together enhances our support of our forces in readiness.”

 

“It is truly our privilege to host our NATO Chaplain colleagues,” said Duprey. “Our cross-deck visit to Johan De Witt was one of several serials designed into the exercise.  As we cooperate with the chaplaincies of other NATO allies we grow in our skills to care for our people in crisis and conflict.”

 

On June 5th, 17 chaplains, Religious Program Specialists, and assistants from 10 NATO nations participated in a Pre-Sail Conference aboard Mount Whitney to learn about the NATO Spiritual Support Interoperability (SSI) initiative and meet one-another before the exercise began. While some returned to their ships or units for the exercise, seven NATO chaplains remained onboard Mount Whitney to refine cooperation and interoperability efforts, practice movement between ships in the exercise, and conduct religious services.

According to CAPT Nathan Solomon, US Naval Forces Europe & Africa Chaplain, “Chaplain participation in BALTOPS started several years ago and has grown in size and complexity each year. This year is the most ambitious year yet and we are very excited to both participate in the exercise and refine our capabilities.”

“NATO is composed of many countries, each with their own spiritual traditions” said Chaplain Emmanuel Reynaerts, Senior Chaplain of the Belgian Navy and the senior NATO chaplain in the exercise. “Bringing all these traditions, denominations and approaches together within the NATO SSI initiative provides more individualized support to all our service members, ensuring the best possible spiritual readiness and making the NATO forces stronger.”

Chaplains from Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, and the United States participated in the exercise.  This initiative highlights the integral role of chaplains in enhancing the overall well-being of service members and strengthening the bonds between allied nations. The SSI exercise serials and the knowledge gained will enhance the robust cooperation built in previous BALTOPS exercises. The NATO chaplains will continue to collaborate, both afloat and ashore, through the conclusion of the exercise with a Post-Sail Conference in Kiel, Germany.

“The work that we do here on spiritual support interoperability in the NATO setting is important, but even more important are the relationships that are being forged,” echoes Norwegian Chaplain Theodore Svane. “Coming together from different nations, backgrounds and faiths, we learn to work together for a common goal. All this is important in order to succeed in interoperability. It is very simple, but also very important.”