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(See photos of the 22nd Signal Brigade's homecoming at end of story.)

DARMSTADT, Germany — As members of the 22nd Signal Brigade tell it, a lot has changed in Iraq since the unit’s first deployment in the earliest days of the war.

They should know. The unit got back from its second tour in October, and officially ended the deployment Friday with an uncasing ceremony at Kelley Barracks.

Many of the unit’s soldiers cited quality-of-life improvements for troops as the most noticeable difference. And, thanks in large part to the brigade, the communications infrastructure has improved as well.

Brig. Gen. Dennis L. Via, commander of 5th Signal Command, told the brigade’s soldiers, “One hundred thirty thousand war fighters could communicate because of you.”

During its second Iraq stint, the unit operated and maintained a vast communications network that spider-webbed across the country, carrying video, voice and data to the front lines and back. The brigade also oversaw a massive transition from old and obsolete communication systems the military rolled into Iraq with to newer commercial and tactical systems.

Part of the transition included the brigade’s establishment of the Joint Network Operations Control Center-Iraq, which provides central oversight of the military’s information network. Via called the center the most complex and high-tech communications network in the history of warfare.

Col. Frederick A. Cross, the brigade’s commander, was quick to praise his troops, but he was also quick to remind everyone that “nothing comes easy or without cost.”

Though all of the unit’s nearly 3,000 troops came home alive, 98 earned Combat Action Badges and 11 earned Purple Hearts. The unit also earned safety awards for its clean record.

“That’s not about luck, that’s good training,” said Via, quoting Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas J. Clark, the brigade’s command sergeant major.

Sgt. Isabel Saldaña, 22, from Orlando, Fla., was in charge of the awards the unit earned during the deployment — about 3,000 of them, she said.

“I think what touched me most was the Purple Hearts,” she said, because to get one, something bad usually has to happen to you.

Now the unit is back in the relative safety of Germany, preparing for another mission: The brigade will inactivate sometime next year, perhaps for good.

“The end of this chapter of our history is here,” Cross said.

But, he said, the final chapter is not yet complete.

After the morning ceremony, the troops were treated to a celebration in the afternoon, complete with carnival rides, food and entertainment.

Photo gallery: 22nd Signal Brigade returns homePhotos by Matt Millham and Michael Abrams, Stars and Stripes


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