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HEIDELBERG, Germany — Army officials are gearing up for the 3rd annual Land Combat Expo, the service’s professional development symposium.

The three-day Expo kicks off Tuesday at Heidelberg’s Patrick Henry Village Pavilion. The event is open to all U.S. military ID card holders, including family members and civilians.

Seven A-list guest speakers anchor the event, organizers say. Most of the speakers will focus on the theme for this year’s expo which is “U.S. Army Europe: At War and Transforming.”

Organizers are promising this year’s expo will be the best yet.

New this year, a series of panel discussions with recent veterans from the war in Iraq will explore lessons from the conflict.

“This is probably the most important part of the expo,” said event organizer Maj. Tammy McKenna. “If we did nothing else, this would be it. The idea is to look at what individual units did and what they learned. And based on what we learned, this is how we should train to fight for future operations.”

McKenna said ideally the panels will become a open forum for troops to “share ideas, ask questions and learn from each other.”

In addition to the war-fighting panels, three groups will meet concentrating on homefront issues, she said.

While the Germans have backed out, this year will mark the first appearance by the Polish and Italian militaries at the expo, said McKenna. They’ll be joining the British military contingent, a veteran of last year’s event.

Each contingent will display a variety of weapons and military hardware, alongside U.S. war gear including tanks, armored vehicles, helicopters and equipment.

Nearly 250 weapons and military hardware manufacturers, Army commands, associations and veterans groups, among others, will fill a massive fest tent with displays.

While the exhibits will offer displays from the big names in the defense industry such as Boeing, maker of the CH-47 Chinook and C-17 cargo plane, troops also will get a chance to meet makers of more muddy boots interest, such as waterproof wear maker Gore-Tex.

Sponsors and topics

Tuesday• Gen. B.B. Bell, U.S. Army Europe commander — USAREUR at War and Transforming.• Marine Gen. James Jones, U.S. European Command and NATO leader — Transforming NATO in the Global War on Terrorism Era.• Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Williams, CSM of Training and Doctrine Command — TRADOC update.

Wednesday • Lt. Gen. William Wallace, Commander Combined Arms Center — V Corps in Operation Iraqi Freedom.• Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston

Thursday • Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, V Corps commander — Combined Joint Task Force Operations in Iraq.• Command Sgt. Maj. Michele Jones, Army Reserve CSM Army Reserve — In the Fight, Ready and Relevant.

— From staff reports

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