By MC2 Brittney Cannady, Expeditionary Combat Camera
BALTOPS is an exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate resolve, among NATO and partner forces to defend the Baltic region. Approximately 6,100 maritime, ground, and air force troops from participating nations demonstrated maritime interdiction, anti-subsurface warfare, amphibious operations, and air defense in a joint environment to ensure regional security. Events took place in Estonia, Finland, Germany, Poland, Sweden, and throughout the Baltic Sea area, June 3-19, 2016.
Swedish Marine 2nd Lt. Jonas Anderlund (left) discuss troop movements with Utilitiesman 1st Class Luis Alarcon and Equipment Operator 2nd Class Robert Shaughnessy, both assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, during the tactical exercise phase of BALTOPS 2016 in Uto, Sweden, June 12. BALTOPS is an annual multinational exercise designed to improve interoperability, enhance flexibility, and demonstrate the resolve of allied and partner nations to defend the Baltic region. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brittney Cannady/160612-N-YM856-356)
The sun doesn’t begin to fade into the horizon on the island of Uto, Sweden until nearly midnight, but for Equipment Operator 2nd Class Robert Shaughnessy, the job continues. The 44th iteration of the multinational maritime exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) is in full swing and Shaughnessy is right in the thick of it.
In his role as umpire, this Seabee attached to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133, is one of several service members chosen to lead more than 800 amphibious troops participating in BALTOPS. He’s also tasked with ensuring they successfully complete each scenario they encounter throughout the tactical exercise.
The rolling, green hills stretched out in front of him for miles are his main focus as he contemplates his next move.
“It’s important for umpires to know where our guys need to be throughout the exercise and be able to get them there. They trust our judgment, so it means a lot to be asked to do this.” said Shaughnessy. The guys in question are a squad of U.S. Marines with Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team (FAST) Company, Europe waiting for their next order a few yards behind him. They have had a long day.
The exercise began on a cold night with a landing along the rocky shores of the beach for his team; from there a two-hour long hike through ravines and climb up a jagged cliff stands between them and their first objective. Swedish Marines with the 1st Marine Regiment known as the “Rocket Squad” joined them and worked together to secure their position for the night.
“We got dropped off at the shore facing against a cliff and followed the woodline, for the most part. Climbing through the rocks in the dark with full packs on was a little tough, but everyone got it done.” said Shaughnessy. “We met up with the Swedish Marines after that and set out to do surveillance patrols before we split into separate squads. Just in the first night of patrolling together, I think both the Swedish and American Marines gained a lot of respect for each other after seeing how well we were able to work with one another.”
At best, the squads got three hours of sleep before daylight returned. As an umpire, Shaughnessy received even less.
Swedish Marines with 1st Marine Regiment plot grid coordinates during the tactical exercise phase of BALTOPS 2016 in Uto, Sweden, June 11. BALTOPS is an annual multinational exercise designed to improve interoperability, enhance flexibility, and demonstrate the resolve of allied and partner nations to defend the Baltic region. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brittney Cannady/160611-N-YM856-118)
In spite of the grueling trek, the job is one that he is more than prepared for as a Seabee, said Shaughnessy.
“The terrain and temperature is very different compared to a typical exercise for us at NMCB 133, but we’re trained pretty well in lots of different environments with our own exercises, especially with land navigation. When you’re out in the field and given nothing but a map and radio, it’s essentially an opportunity to put everything we learn into play, and that’s always an exciting challenge.”
As he scans that same map in the increasing darkness, Shaughnessy understands the exercise is far from easy, but he has lead umpire, Swedish 2nd Lt. Jonas Anderlund, who helps lay out the group’s plan for the following day. Together, the two will try to determine the best position for the Marines with them, should they face contact earlier than planned.
The interaction is exactly what Anderlund believes BALTOPS was created for. “On the surface, I originally thought we do things quite differently,” Anderlund shared during a lull in their planning. “Because the training is so realistic, we’ve been able to see that we use some of the same tactics and procedures as the (U.S.) Marines in the field but are still able to learn from each other, which I think is beneficial for all the nations that participate in BALTOPS.”
After a few minutes, Shaughnessy goes back to studying the spot marking their current location before scanning the open field in front of them again. The squad has been assigned with preventing opposing forces from reaching camp by blocking the road most likely to be used. In a few short hours the valley will be filled with the sound of gunfire.
It is a task his team has a good chance of accomplishing and will serve as a learning experience for them, Shaughnessy believes. “Part of what makes this exercise so interesting is seeing how everyone responds to the scenario in different ways; it’s a learning process for everyone which is great to watch.”
The umpire also knows that squads of equally determined troops will soon be heading in his direction. By sunrise he will be ready to face them.