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Gen. B.B. Bell, United States Army Europe commander, during an interview with Stars and Stripes in Heidelberg on Wednesday.
Gen. B.B. Bell, United States Army Europe commander, during an interview with Stars and Stripes in Heidelberg on Wednesday. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
Gen. B.B. Bell, United States Army Europe commander, during an interview with Stars and Stripes in Heidelberg on Wednesday.
Gen. B.B. Bell, United States Army Europe commander, during an interview with Stars and Stripes in Heidelberg on Wednesday. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
Gen. B.B. Bell, center, United States Army Europe commander, sings with the USAREUR Band and Choir to kick off Land Combat Expo 2005 in Heidelberg on Wednesday.
Gen. B.B. Bell, center, United States Army Europe commander, sings with the USAREUR Band and Choir to kick off Land Combat Expo 2005 in Heidelberg on Wednesday. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

The U.S. military alliance with NATO partners is as strong as it’s ever been “despite the political fireworks that go on from time to time,” Gen. B.B. Bell said Wednesday, some months before he’s expected to take command of a force — U.S. Forces Korea — with several friends and one serious foe.

Bell, commander of U.S. Army Europe for nearly three years, was the kickoff speaker of the USAREUR Land Combat Expo. It’s the third year of the expo and the most international, with delegations expected from Afghanistan and Iraq for the first time.

Bell’s speech lauded the troops, especially those going to Iraq for a second time, who were not the only ones ready and willing to serve.

“These spouses are on board,” Bell said. “They’re not war-weary. They’re concerned. … The health of the organization [amid] these repeated deployments is good.”

Bell, who oversaw deployment of Germany- and Italy-based soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan and who devised the downsizing plan of U.S. Europe-based troops, was nominated Monday to take command of U.S. Forces Korea, which includes all branches of the U.S. military.

That U.S. force also is expected to be significantly reduced within the next three years, as concerns over North Korea’s nuclear capabilities continue.

But Bell said Wednesday the issue in South Korea is not the size of the force but the ability to reinforce.

“It’s the capability to bring force to bear,” he said.

Among his new titles also would be commander of Combined Forces Command, a joint force of American and South Korean soldiers, and commander of the U.N. Command, formed in 1954 when the Korean War ended.

Bell has twice been confirmed for command without undergoing questioning from the U.S. Senate. This time, he’s expecting to be called.

“I’d expected they’ll ask me about the military readiness of that force,” he said. “I’ll study. I will learn, and I’ll take my experience of 36 years in this business,” he said.

Bell has served in South Korea before and said he was well-versed in USKF’s war plan. His command of NATO’s Allied Land Component Command Headquarters Heidelberg already has provided him an opportunity to oversee a joint force.

But in Wednesday’s speech before a standing room-only crowd, Bell said he wanted to focus on U.S. Army Europe and its relations with NATO nations working together in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. He gave an upbeat assessment.

“We are in this together, and we’ll succeed together,” he said.

The three-day expo at Patrick Henry Village is billed as a professional development event for soldiers, but Bell said it was mostly an “opportunity to celebrate and be proud of who they are and what they do.”

He admired all branches of the military, Bell said in his speech, after two renditions of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” by the USAREUR chorus — the second time sung at Bell’s request.

But, he said, “At the end of the day, I celebrate my service, the outfit that goes and puts its boots on the ground.”

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