By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Bill Steele, Navy Office of Community Outreach

KIEL, Germany – Petty Officer 1st Class Dustin Cochran, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, is participating in the Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) exercise with 18 other nations.

This is my first BALTOPS; it’s a new experience,” Cochran said. “I’m looking forward to working alongside other countries and seeing how they operate. We’re supposed to take on some other amphibious assault vehicles from other countries and that will be interesting to see.”

BALTOPS 2019, scheduled for June 8-21, includes sea, air and land assets. The multi-national exercise provides 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.

Cochran is a boatswain’s mate aboard the USS Fort McHenry, stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.

“I’m the departmental leading petty officer for the ship’s deck and I’m in charge of two divisions of the ship,” Cochran said. “I’m responsible for all the well deck, crane ops, flight ops, and boat ops.”

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.

Cochran credits his success in the Navy to lessons he learned growing up in Knoxville.
“I guess just being from the south I learned to treat people with respect,” Cochran said. “I’ve always been a ‘yes, sir’, ‘no, sir’ kind of guy.”
BALTOPS 2019 was planned and is being 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 marks the first time the renewed fleet will be operating in Europe.

Commander, C2F, Vice Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis, will lead 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,” said Lewis. “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 will begin in Kiel, Germany, with the pre-sail conference. At-sea training will occur 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 will sail to Kiel, Germany, to participate in the Kielerwochen Festival (Kiel Week).

Allied nations with ships and forces participating in BALTOPS 2019 include 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 will also participate in the exercise.

Serving in the Navy means Cochran 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,” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. “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, Cochran is most proud of earning his surface war pin recently.

“I am proud I have it, it was a lot of hard work and hours studying to get,” he said. “It’s a big accomplishment for me.”

As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Cochran and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes contributing to the Navy the nation needs.

“My grandfather was in the Navy. I wanted to do something proud for him and to make my whole family proud,” Cochran said. “I’m not really a selfish person, I don’t do this for myself. I guess I always try to do my best to make other people happy.”