Several U.S. Navy reservists are underway onboard 6th Fleet’s flagship, USS Mount Whitney (LCC20) to conduct Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2014, a multinational maritime exercise which takes place June 6 -21.
For three reservists in particular, Cmdr. William “Russ” Lewis, Electronics Technician 1st Class Steven Lamont, and Lt. Don Collins, the experience of serving their Annual Training (AT) duty during BALTOPS proves a unique and rewarding experience.
This is the second BALTOPS exercise that Lewis has participated in. His first was in 2012, where he served in the Civil Military Affairs directorate for Strike Force NATO.
“… every job is unique,” said Lewis, a Navy reservist from Chattanooga, Tennessee, who is the submarine syndicate lead for BALTOPS 2014. “You need to be flexible and figure out where you can be of the most benefit to that operation.”
Lewis serves as the liaison to the German submarine operations authority to manage the undersea warfare aspect of the exercise, ensuring 22 safe and effective training evolutions.
“As a submarine syndicate lead I’m kind of in a planning role, it’s all about water space management,” said Lewis.
Training events span across the full range of capabilities beginning with familiarization serials before graduating to more complex maneuvers that involve undersea, surface and air assets practicing location techniques, sonar buoy drops and acquiring targeting solutions.
Behind the scenes, ensuring successful training evolutions are supported by steady communications is Electronics Technician 1st Class Steven Lamont, who serves as a high frequency (HF) transmitter expert for BALTOPS 2014. For Lamont, the exercise was a novel experience.
“This is my first time serving aboard a ship,” said Lamont, a reservist from Greenville, South Carolina, whose Navy career spans 16 years. “Overall the experience of seeing other countries, seeing other ships, pulling up beside them has been great.”
Lamont, like Lewis, achieved success by remaining flexible.
“When I first arrived onboard, I wasn’t really sure where I would be working or what I would be doing… it wasn’t long before I learned exactly where I was needed and started putting my skills to good use,” said Lamont, who works to repair HF transmitters to aid in ship-to-ship communications with the 30 naval vessels participating in BALTOPS this year.
“We’re working on the HF transmitters that are being used by the different countries involved to stay connected to each other… I’ve been having a good time jumping in and seeing what I can fix while we’re here,” he added.
Lamont is not the only reservist who was exposed to shipboard life for the first time.
“The biggest thing for me was the opportunity to get on a ship. In my entire naval career I have yet to be on a ship until now,” said Lt. Don Collins of Knoxville, Tennessee, who serves as assistant communications officer for the exercise. “I’ve wanted the chance to serve on Mount Whitney specifically, so I jumped at the opportunity to finally do that… now I collect information and update reports regarding communications between Mount Whitney and other elements involved with BALTOPS,” said Collins.
Those communications span across the BALTOPS force which consists of surface, subsurface and aviation assets from 14 nations that are training together to enhance interoperability and collective capabilities to foster regional stability.
Collins believes it is the differences among the force that make it great.
Until the exercise concludes, Lewis, Lamont and Collins continue to focus on the mission.
“When I go on an exercise, I’m all Navy -24 hours a day- whatever it takes,” said Lewis.
The three also agree that part of every reservist’s duty while serving their AT is representing the reserves.
“I think every time we go on orders, we’re a walking advertisement… I introduce myself as a reservist, I’m proud of that,” said Lewis.
Not far from a whiteboard where Lamont drafted a to-do list and was leading the repair of several radios and parts, Lamont echoed Lewis’ sentiments and made it a point to showcase leadership and Navy values to junior enlisted active duty Sailors he serves with aboard Mount Whitney.
Now in its 42nd year, BALTOPS is an annual, multinational exercise with the goal of enhancing maritime capabilities across the full spectrum of military operations to support stability in the Baltic Sea.
Press Release, June 18, 2014; Image: MSC US Navy