KIEL, Germany – U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeffrey Thornton, a native of Florence, participated in the Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) exercise with 18 other nations.
“This is my first BALTOPS, and I’m really looking forward to working with other nations and seeing what other countries can do," Thornton said before the exercise. "I think we're getting some Spanish sailors onboard as part of the exercise.”
BALTOPS 2019, which was held June 8-21, included sea, air and land assets. The multinational exercise provided a unique training opportunity that fosters cooperative relationships critical to ensuring safety at sea and security on the world's interconnected oceans. According to U.S. Navy officials, it is designed to improve training value for participants, enhance flexibility and interoperability and demonstrate resolve among allied and partner forces in defending the Baltic Sea region.
Thornton is a hospital corpsman aboard the USS Fort McHenry, stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.
“I'm the preventive medicine technician onboard,” he said. “I inspect the galley, test all potable water on the ship, manage five Navy occupational health programs and three environmental health programs.”
Fort McHenry is a Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship named for Fort McHenry in Baltimore, the 1814 defense of which inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner." Whidbey Island class ships have the largest capacity for landing crafts of any U.S. Navy amphibious platform.
Thornton credits his success in the Navy to his upbringing in Florence.
“My mom and dad brought me up to be really respectful, and that helps,” Thornton said.
BALTOPS 2019 was planned and led by U.S. 2nd Fleet (C2F), as directed by U.S. Naval Forces Europe. C2F was re-established last summer as a response to the changing security environment, and BALTOPS 2019 marked the first time the renewed fleet was be operating in Europe.
Commander, C2F, Vice Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis led the exercise on behalf of U.S. Naval Forces Europe.
“As you all are aware, U.S. 2nd Fleet will be leading the exercise, but make no mistake, it will be founded on NATO and partner principles,” Lewis said before the exercise. “Through BALTOPS 2019 and exercises like it, we strengthen our relationships and improve overall coordination and interoperability between allies and partners during both peace and times of conflict.”
The exercise began in Kiel, Germany, with the pre-sail conference. At-sea training occurred throughout the Baltic Sea, including events scheduled near Putlos, Germany; Saaremaa Island, Estonia; Riga, Latvia; Klaipeda, Lithuania; and Ravlunda, Sweden. At the end of the exercise, most participating ships sailed to Kiel, Germany, to participate in the Kielerwochen Festival (Kiel Week).
Allied nations with ships and forces participating in BALTOPS 2019 included Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. NATO partner nations Finland and Sweden also participated in the exercise.
Serving in the Navy means Thornton is part of a world that is taking on new importance in America’s focus on rebuilding military readiness, strengthening alliances and reforming business practices in support of the National Defense Strategy.
A key element of the Navy the nation needs is tied to the fact that America is a maritime nation, and that the nation’s prosperity is tied to the ability to operate freely on the world’s oceans. More than 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water; 80 percent of the world’s population lives close to a coast; and 90 percent of all global trade by volume travels by sea.
“Our priorities center on people, capabilities and processes and will be achieved by our focus on speed, value, results and partnerships,” Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer said. “Readiness, lethality and modernization are the requirements driving these priorities.”
Though there are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community and career, Thornton is most proud of his promotion to second class petty officer this year.
“It was a big deal, because I was a third class for like six years,” Thornton said. “I also got a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for our medical readiness inspection before we went on this deployment. It felt like we were getting recognized for all the hard work we did.”
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most-relied-upon assets, Thornton and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes contributing to the Navy the nation needs.
“I'm the first in my immediate family to serve in the Navy, so I feel like I am doing my part by serving my country," Thornton said. "I’m being a good member of society.”
Bill Steele is the chief mass communication specialist for the Navy Office of Community Outreach.