ABOARD HMS OCEAN, Baltic Sea - U.S. Army paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, kicked off BALTOPS 15 with a sea-launched air assault mission onto a beachhead near Ravlunda, Sweden, June 10, 2015.
BALTOPS, in its 43rd year, is an annually recurring U.S.-lead, multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate the resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.
Paratroopers from Company D, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade are the only U.S. Army unit participating in the exercise, which has brought together approximately 5,600 ground, maritime and air forces from 17 NATO and partner nations.
"This exercise represents an important opportunity for our forces, as allies and partners, to enhance our ability to work together and strengthen capabilities required to maintain regional security," said U.S. Navy Vice Adm. James Foggo III, exercise director and commander, U.S. 6th Fleet and Striking and Support Forces NATO.
The American paratroopers arrived in Ravlunda, Sweden, and then boarded HMS Ocean, a British Royal Navy amphibious helicopter carrier anchored off the coast. For the next two weeks, the paratroopers will be at sea as they train with an attached Finnish marine antitank missile platoon from the Nyland Brigade, and other U.S., allies and partner forces.
"There is no other conventional unit in the Army that carries out the types of missions that the 173rd Airborne Brigade does," said U.S. Army Capt. Matthew McCarthy, commander, Company D. "This exercise allows us to demonstrate the use of sea-based platforms to deliver our paratroopers wherever they are needed."
The combined company carried out their first exercise together, an air assault from a British Royal Air Force CH-47 helicopter, launched from HMS Ocean.
"Today's training mission with the Finnish marines is just the first of many exercises that we have planned throughout the next couple of weeks," said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Travis A. Knudsen, a platoon sergeant with Company D. "This sort of combined, joint training further enhances the 173rd's capabilities to work with, and increase interoperability with, our European partners and allies in a tactical environment."
Having an Finnish platoon, part of the 2015 NATO Reaction Force, attached to the company is providing an opportunity for realistic maritime training by the two groups in order to build experience and teamwork by training on unifying NATO tactics, techniques and procedures.
"During the air assault, the Finnish tactics blended seamlessly with ours," said Knudsen. "We had no trouble shooting, moving or communicating with them. Going into our future training with them, or even a real-word mission, I now know how they operate and what to expect from them."
The Finns agreed.
"Our training together is getting better and more efficient as we work together on our standardized operating procedures," said Finnish marine Lt.j.g. Daniel P. Forsell.
BALTOPS is just the first part of a five-month deployment to the Baltic region for the paratroopers of Company D. After this exercise, they will transition up to Estonia and Poland as part of U.S. Army Europe's Operation Atlantic Resolve North, a practical demonstration of the United States' commitment to European regional security.
BALTOPS is just one of the multinational regional exercises, along with Saber Strike, that the 173rd is currently participating in the the Baltics and Poland.
"The 173rd, as a forwardly positioned-unit, shows U.S. shared commitment to regional stability and security by participating in exercises like BALTOPS and Saber Strike, training with and alongside European forces in order to promote peace in the region," said Sgt. Sean Fitzgibbons, an intelligence analyst with 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the U.S. Army Contingency Response Force for Europe, capable of projecting forces anywhere in the U.S. European, Central or Africa Commands' areas of responsibilities within 18 hours of notification.