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Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC)

CTF 68 supports BALTOPS 24 in Latvia

by Petty Officer First Class James Hong
21 June 2024 LIEPĀJA, Latvia - U.S. Navy Sailors assigned to Commander, Task Force (CTF) 68 completed an expeditionary Naval base operations exercise in support of the Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 24 exercise in Liepāja, Latvia, June 20, 2024.

The CTF 68 team established and led a small advanced base that housed and supported roughly 70 Sailors from different fields of Naval expeditionary warfare for the duration of the three-week exercise.

These included teams from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, Mobile Dive and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2, Navy Environmental Preventive Medicine Unit (NEPMU) 2, Commander, Naval Forces Europe’s Maritime Ashore Support Team (DET MAST) and the Navy Intelligence Exploitation Command (NIEC).

“This year’s BALTOPS represented a lot of ‘first evers’ for CTF 68,” said Lt. Allandra Hodas, an operations officer assigned to CTF 68. “This was the first time we utilized our newly formed reserve component and the first time we have had a NEPMU work for us.”

Under CTF 68’s command and control, a wide array of expeditionary skills were put to work in and around Liepāja. MDSU 2 conducted underwater surveys of harbor infrastructure and delivered in-depth training to Latvian Navy EOD divers on underwater welding, exothermic cutting and the use of the KM 37 dive helmet for surface-supplied dives.

“This is the second year we are working with… MDSU 2 as part of BALTOPS,” said Lt. Cmdr. Haralds Lininš, commanding officer of the Latvian Navy’s mine countermeasure diving unit. “We look forward to increasing our mutual skills and capabilities during this year and in future iterations.”

Elsewhere, the NMCB 11 Seabees kicked off the exercise by constructing CTF 68’s base camp, named “Camp Turtle” in memory of “Turbulent Turtle”, a U.S. Navy patrol aircraft lost at sea near Liepāja in 1950 with ten souls on board.

After putting up the camp, the Seabees surveyed potential project sites, maintained the camp and constructed a Southwest Asia hut. They also cross-trained with combat engineers from the Latvian National Guard’s 4th Brigade Engineering Company to deploy water purification systems and test out newly acquired prefabricated kits for boat ramps and helicopter pads.

Additionally, NEPMU 2, NIEC and DET MAST supported the camp and its mission with environmental analysis, intelligence collection and communications, respectively.

Latvian personnel and logistical support was critical to the success of the exercise. Soldiers from the Latvian National Guard’s 4th Brigade provided security for Camp Turtle, which was sustained by meals, services and facilities provided by local vendors.

On June 15th, the city of Liepāja invited CTF 68 personnel to display expeditionary capabilities and equipment to the public alongside Latvian first responders in the city’s “Armed with Knowledge” community relations event. The event, held in Liepāja’s city center, informed Latvians about the protection offered by local civil defense services and their American Allies.

“The Latvian military are warm and gracious hosts that have a lot to offer and teach us during future engagements,” said Capt. Geoffrey Townsend, commander, Task Force 68. “We couldn’t be more honored and privileged to have been here for this 53rd and biggest iteration of BALTOPS.”

BALTOPS24 is the premier maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic Region. The exercise, led by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and executed by Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, provides a unique training opportunity to strengthen combined response capabilities critical to preserving freedom of navigation and security in the Baltic Sea.

CTF 68, headquartered in Rota, Spain, commands all Navy Expeditionary Forces in U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of responsibility and is responsible for providing EOD operations, naval construction, expeditionary security, and theater security efforts in direct support of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and U.S. 6th Fleet.

For over 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.

Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility. U.S. 6th Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.