LEIMEN, Germany - Understanding responsibilities and identifying challenges early on will be paramount in meeting an aggressive timeline for structural requirements within European Infrastructure Consolidation, U.S. and German construction leaders said recently at their annual Partnering Conference.The national defense strategy, which aims to realign and balance American forces in Europe over the next decade, was among several key topics discussed here April 13-14 as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District met with key counterparts from German federal and state ministries. The forum also included representatives from regional construction offices in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Rheinland-Pfalz and Hessen."This conference is a very important tradition for the U.S. and German sides," said Matthias Vollmer, director of the Building Engineering Division for the German Federal Ministry of Environment, Preservation of Nature, Construction and Reactor Safety, or BMUB. "It's always an interesting and informative venue, and we hope it leads to better cooperation and continued success for our partnership."The gathering, first held in 1992, is set up to create better understanding between the partners, strengthen common functions and provide the latest developments. Officials say it's a chance to draw on lessons learned from past and current projects while seeking improvement and efficiencies for U.S. programs in Germany.More than 100 attendees from USACE, the German Construction Administration, Installation Management Command-Europe and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center took part in the two-day session. The group also heard a progress report on the Rhine Ordnance Barracks Medical Center Replacement near Ramstein Air Base, an overview of German nature-protection laws and how they affect U.S. construction projects."I'm impressed with the amount and quality of construction executed by our agencies," said Col. Matthew Tyler, the Europe District commander. "We have played a major role in NATO as we improve our collective defense to adapt to a rapidly changing security environment. The EIC program is expected to top $1 billion in the next few years … [and] events like this set the stage for even better communication to further our partnership. It's always good for us to come together and have open, candid dialogue. It's very important for our future success."The EIC process will return 15 sites to their host nations and save about $500 million annually in operating costs for U.S. forces in Europe, the Department of Defense announced in January 2015. It calls for consolidation and restructuring of troops and assets at key locations across the Continent to bolster regional security, capacity and increase readiness.Engineers say that means considerable design and military construction through about 2024, including major work for the Air Force at Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases to move missions out of the United Kingdom.The Air Force's EIC segment in Germany is shaped around the closure of three U.K. bases: RAFs Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth, likely around 2022, officials said. USACE's segment covers 22 projects valued at just under $600 million. A dozen are set for Spangdahlem as part of special operations wing formation and relocation of CV-22 Osprey and MC-130J aircraft from Mildenhall. Projects range from airfield hangars and aprons to squadron operations facilities and wing headquarters."Partnering is so crucial to the success of this program," said Jeff Domm, chief of AFCEC's Europe Division. "The interesting thing about EIC is it's kind of a Base Realignment and Closure in Europe -- we're consolidating and reducing our footprint and operations costs. Yet at the same time we have the European Reassurance Initiative. On one hand, we're drawing down; on the other hand, we're building up in Eastern Europe."The scope of Europe District's Army EIC workload includes five projects worth about $115 million for garrisons in Wiesbaden, Stuttgart, Bavaria and Rheinland-Pfalz, according to program managers.EIC actually dates back a decade under the concept of "consolidate, divest and invest," said Jeff Jackson, IMCOM-Europe's chief of construction."The Army was spending a lot of money, and it was unsustainable. Facilities were not being utilized to the fullest," he said. "EIC has been a long time in the planning. … But the geopolitical climate can suddenly change, and we get new mandates to which we have to adjust and adapt our EIC projects. It can impact our planning concepts and strains our resources."Ongoing Army EIC actions across Germany include the closures of Giessen and Mannheim's Coleman Barracks next year, along with Mainz-Kastel station and housing and Barton Barracks in Ansbach in 2018. A partial closing of Kaiserslautern's Pulaski Barracks also is scheduled for 2018, with a similar measure unfolding at Artillery Kaserne in Garmisch the following year.IMCOM-Europe's final step for the initiative will be the closure of Wiesbaden's Amelia Earhart Center around 2025 -- once work is completed on the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center replacement, Jackson said."Also, we are looking to reduce the population stresses that we currently have in Stuttgart and relocate about 800 people to Baumholder," he added. "2017 looks to be a very austere year when it comes to funding … and IMCOM has been told to reduce its staff across all our garrisons. We live in challenging times, and EIC is just one of the many challenges with which we deal. Fortunately, we get great support from the Corps of Engineers and our host-nation partners."Domm said EIC is an "extremely complex program" and places demands on getting designs together quickly under firm deadlines."It's a complicated effort that requires close coordination and communication with our partners," he said. "The Corps of Engineers and LBB [German regional construction offices] are the execution agents for us, and we rely heavily on their expertise."Overall, the opportunity to exchange experiences and ideas with leaders and project managers from both sides is invaluable, participants said."The Partnering Conference is probably the best thing we do every year," said Ed Subjek, a Europe District regional program manager in Stuttgart. "The most important thing is talking to each other. That leads to cooperation and building our relationship -- from that comes good projects."Deputy District Engineer John Adams believes the meeting allows U.S. and German engineers to strive for tighter collaboration and find mutually beneficial solutions to intricate challenges."We are one team -- we are strategic partners. And there's still a lot to do in this country," he said. "We both have our own construction and technical requirements. Every year, I envision we get a little bit better with our processes so we can deliver these needed facilities at a more expeditious rate."The 2017 Partnering Conference is tentatively set for next spring in Bavaria, organizers said."In the end, we are interested in solutions that work for both sides," Clemens Haury of the BMUB said through a translator. "Formats like this are always helpful."