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HEIDELBERG, Germany — Gen. B.B. Bell, the top soldier in Europe, gathered his senior leaders this week to map out the future of Army forces in the region.

The U.S. Army Europe Visioning Conference, a two-day powwow, ended Wednesday and involved more than two dozen of Bell’s senior commanders, top civilians and command sergeants major.

The conference was designed as “a means to address future challenges and provide a path to the future,” said Bell’s spokesman, Col. Carl Kropf.

Bell denied requests by Stars and Stripes to attend the conference. However, Kropf said Bell was expected to soon issue a series of new documents that provided much of the focus for the conference discussion. Among the documents getting overhauled:

• The USAREUR Mission Statement.• The USAREUR Vision Statement.• The USAREUR Mission Essential Task List.

“A vision statement is a statement of what you want to be, your future view,” explained Kropf, while a “mission statement describes what business you’re in, what is your mission right now.”

A Mission Essential Task List, or METL in military shorthand, is generally a rundown of specific skills commanders consider most necessary for a unit to win on the battlefield. “But this will be a USAREUR-level METL,” said Kropf.

The conference comes as Bell’s boss — Marine Gen. James L. Jones, the joint commander for all forces in Europe — is preparing to brief Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon on Friday regarding his plan to overhaul forces in Europe.

Jones wants to close some bases in Germany and perhaps in England while opening new outposts in Eastern Europe in countries, such as NATO-hopefuls Romania and Bulgaria. Those plans also involve cutting overall troop strength in Europe by moving some units to the United States while shifting to a more rotational presence overseas.

Kropf declined to comment on the specific content of the Visioning Conference.

“Everyone was looking at all of the possibilities,” said Kropf, emphasizing that “no final decisions have been made yet.”

According to the current “USAREUR XXI: A Vision for the 21st Century,” one of the command’s leading drivers has been evolving its ability to deploy forces to hot spots.

“Be a strategic projection force prepared to rapidly and effectively deploy and sustain military power anywhere in the world becoming a forward platform that enhances and augments the Total Army’s capability to respond to crises worldwide,” reads the first bullet in the one-page document

While that general theme is likely to remain in the upcoming USAREUR vision, officials say, it’s the details behind it that will see substantial revision in the coming months.

The first key assumption in USAREUR’s current master plan, for example, is that U.S. presence in Europe “will remain at current levels.” In the past, Army leaders have said that the corps headquarters and two divisions currently based in Germany are key pieces to U.S. involvement in NATO and must remain in place.

“It is essential that forces committed to NATO reaction forces remain physically located in theater,” reads the 2000-2015 USAREUR Theater Plan, drafted in 1999 by Bell’s predecessor, now retired Gen. Montgomery Meigs.

According to the plan, by 2005 officials envisioned USAREUR’s forces “still built around a corps headquarters and two division flags.”

Jones has said publicly, however, that the Germany-based 1st Armored Division could be among the forces returning to the United States in the coming years.

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