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DARMSTADT, Germany — Five years ago, Staff Sgt. David DeLuca managed a Toys “R” Us in upstate New York, but longed for a change.

He got it.

Next week, DeLuca’s unit, the 578th Signal Company based in Darmstadt, will be among the first V Corps troops to leave for an open-ended mission to Southwest Asia.

“I wanted to do something more important with my life than work at a toy store,” said the father of three. “I think back, no one would picture me with a rifle running across the desert.”

But first, DeLuca’s platoon heads to Grafenwöhr to support Victory Scrimmage, a classified V Corps exercise that includes staff from four combat divisions. As a satellite communications team chief, DeLuca leads 15 troops who establish vital links between commanders. They set up tactical satellite — “tac-sat” for short, DeLuca said. Their equipment can reach commands in the States, he said.

“Anything over 200 miles,” DeLuca said. “We’re the long-haul communications.”

After the exercise, the signal troops move to Hungary before heading toward the Middle East, he said.

“After Sept. 11, we knew we were going to fit in somewhere,” DeLuca said. “Since then, we’ve been prepared to go.”

For the past two weeks, the company held classes each morning on basic soldiers’ skills, said 1st Sgt. George Larimore, 37. Troop inspections this week ranged from communication gear to overgarments that protect from nuclear, biological and chemical hazards.

On Friday, Larimore said, troops get their anthrax shots.

Soldiers not supporting Victory Scrimmage are planning to head straight to Kuwait, he said.

The 578th is “one-of-a-kind” in V Corps, that normally links the corps commander with his maneuver divisions, company commander Capt. Chris Manning said.

While Manning’s company leaves around the same time as the Vilseck-based 94th Engineer Battalion, it will not directly support the construction troops, he said.

Manning’s troops are no strangers to overseas missions. In the past 18 months, 578th soldiers deployed to Israel, Macedonia, Poland, Bosnia and Kosovo, Manning said. In between, they supported corps exercises such as Warfighter and Victory Strike.

“It’s not hard for them to prepare,” Manning said. “We do our wartime mission on a daily basis.”

In October, one platoon deployed to Kuwait and remained through December for Internal Look, an exercise for U.S. Central Command’s headquarters. That platoon came home for the holidays, but returns to Kuwait this week, Larimore said.

On New Year’s Eve, the company was among about 800 V Corps troops who received deployment orders.

Pfc. Daniel Grove’s family read about the order in the local paper, back in St. Cloud, Minn. Grove, 20, has been preparing them for the past six months. Both Grove’s brother and father wore the uniform, so they knew his situation, he said.

Grove’s platoon bounces microwave signals off the troposphere — the lowest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere — to uplink troops on the battlefield. Dubbed “tropo” for short, the uplink consists of a trailer with large antennae, Grove said. Once set up, Grove tweaks the antennae to get a clear signal.

Like many first-term soldiers, Grove sees deployment as good experience — at least more interesting than garrison work, he said.

“When we get out there, we’ll have the real-world stuff, trouble-shooting problems” Grove said. “What an opportunity.”

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